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The Earliest Evolution of Glastonbury Legend:

An Overview [1]

Scholarly attitudes to Glastonbury and its early importance

Not many years ago, a representative of the regional archaeological establishment gave a talk in Glastonbury. In a few moments of private conversation afterwards, I expressed regret that more resources had not been made available over the years for archaeology at Glastonbury, characterising it as a site of European cultural significance. He replied that in archaeological terms Glastonbury was a Saxon monastic site equivalent to – say – Illminster. Now, even in the strictest archaeological terms this is hardly sustainable. Illminster was never more than a minor site of indeterminate character – minster in the Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, tongue seemingly covered anything from a full-scale monastery to merely, by local standards, a big church. Glastonbury, by contrast, was a royal burial site of West Saxon kings at the very height of their dynastic power, in those very years when the political map of Britain which still endures was crystallising from the chaos of the First Viking Age. The tenth century saw the emergence of a unitary English kingdom stretching from Cornwall to the Cheviots, arguably the best run and most cohesive nation-state West of Byzantium – which is why, in the following century, firstly the Danish kings, and then the Normans, were keen to take it over as a going concern. It assumed the leading role among the smaller polities of the British Isles, of Celtic and Scandinavian cultural background, most importantly, in the north, the Gaelic-speaking kingdom of Alban which was united, seemingly amicably, with the English-speaking Lothians in the 970’s to form what we think of as Scotland.

Glastonbury stood centre-stage through most of these developments. Athelstan (reigned 924-939) pursued an aggressive policy, becoming the first individual since Roman times to achieve effective political control of the whole of  Great Britain, and the first English king to intervene militarily on the continent. He had connections to Glastonbury through a kinswoman who lived as a holy woman to the west of the Abbey, and visited her there with his court. Dunstan, born near Glastonbury, began his public career as a secular noble in Athelstan’s brilliant court, although he eventually fell from favour. On the accession of Athelstan’s half-brother Edmund (r.939-946) he was recalled and appointed both Abbot of Glastonbury and Edmund’s chief minister. He retained both these positions during the following reign, that of Edmund’s brother Edred (r.946-955), accompanying him on campaign in the north, and, after a brief period of disgrace and exile under Edmund’s son Edwy (r.955-959), became chief minister once more to Edwy’s brother Edgar (r.957/9-975), retaining his political position until Edgar’s tragically early death. He is the first non-royal statesman who gives continuity to successive reigns in this way. Edgar appointed him successively to the sees of Worcester, London and Canterbury (960). It is unclear what happened regarding the Glastonbury abbacy under Edgar, but both Edmund I and Edgar were buried here.[2] Edmund II Ironside (r.1016), who tried to rally the nation against the Danish invader Knut, was also buried at Glastonbury. Knut (r.1016-1035) himself visited his predecessor’s shrine around 1032, presenting a rich cloak with a design of peacocks, almost certainly Byzantine silk, as a pall.

Glastonbury’s royal status was linked to its position as the oldest and most influential English centre of the movement for reform within Benedictine monasticism which was concurrently taking place on the Continent, putting Glastonbury in the same class as sites like Fleury and Cluny (founded 910). The Benedictine Reform sought a ‘back to basics’ approach to the (originally 6th-century) rule of St Benedict, the chief monastic rule of western Europe, and a beautification of the round of sung services – the Opus Dei or Work of God – which took up to eight hours of the monastic day. It should be remembered that there were as yet no universities in the west, and royal and noble courts as centres of cultural and literary activity were in their infancy – those of Charlemagne, Alfred and Athelstan being, in some degree, exceptional. Despite this, even Anglo-Saxonists sometimes find it difficult to engage with the Benedictine Reform. It may be helpful to look beyond more familiar late medieval and post-Reformation models of monasticism to societies like Burma and Tibet where, far from being peripheral, the monasteries have been at the very heart of the civilisation, and where, even very recently, they have been seen to play a prominent and controversial role vis a vis the secular powers. In 10th-century England, too, not all approved of the growing wealth and influence of the monasteries. As in Tibet in the 7th and 8th centuries, where the Dharma Kings, the Righteous Kings who favoured Buddhism and the monasteries, were – and are – revered as semi-divine, so at Glastonbury, Edmund I, and especially Edgar, both buried here, were revered as saints, the latter until the Abbey’s dissolution. As in Tibet, spiritual lineages were important – who taught whom, who ordained whom, and, although there were as yet no monastic orders as such in the west, families of monasteries were important. This is also true of Ireland throughout the Early Christian period, where such families were called paruchiae. Glastonbury’s ‘paruchia’ included sites abandoned in the Viking Age and now re-founded, like Bath and Abingdon, and new sites like Westminster. The restoration of the monasteries after the Viking era is comparable to the rebuilding of the Tibetan monasteries following the Cultural Revolution.

All of this had tangible consequences. Architecturally, Glastonbury in Dunstan’s rebuilding is held to be the first English monastery to be laid out around a cloister, a pattern he took with him to St Augustine’s, Canterbury. Glastonbury was instrumental in the evolution of new forms of script, and in the evolution of ‘diplomatic’, the formal language of the Anglo-Saxon land-charters which both mirrored and helped to define royal aspirations. We may be sure that Glastonbury was an important centre for the physical production of manuscripts, with all that that necessitated economically in the production of quantities of high-grade animal hide for the vellum parchment, and the production of pigment, some of it from exotic imported materials. Glastonbury will have been a centre for the production of fine ornamental metal-work, lapidery, and enamelling, for book-covers and all manner of ecclesiastical equipment; for textiles; and even for such things as organs. Radford identified 10th-century glass furnaces for glazing and enamel-work. It will have been a centre for stone-carving, both monumental and decorative, and perhaps even ivory carving, something in which the English achieved proficiency in the 10th century. One might have thought that all of the above would offer rich potential for excavators. Glastonbury was, in archaeological jargon, ‘high status’ – for a time, indeed, the very highest, alongside Winchester and Canterbury. But the visiting archaeological personage did not seem to appreciate this. The point is not to criticise an individual. Rather, the story offers an excellent concrete illustration of that embarrassment about – sometimes even hostility to – Glastonbury within the wider British academic community which many people who attempt any serious work on the subject soon become aware of.

The Mythos

The reason for this scholarly reticence,  of course, is identical with the reason why – again in marked contrast to Illminster – the name and something of the character of Glastonbury is known throughout the English-speaking world, and now well beyond, from California to Kathmandu. Glastonbury has what I term the Mythos. This is an accumulation of diverse elements, some of seemingly spontaneous evolution, others more contrived. There is a sub-stratum of genuinely ancient myth and legend; there is a body of equally authentic, but even less readily datable, folklore and popular belief, surrounding such things as the Holy Thorn and the Well; there is modern creative writing in poetry, prose, and drama, from Tennyson to Fay Weldon. Glastonbury as a theme in modern literature, indeed, would make an excellent study. Alongside this development, we have the speculations and musings of the antiquaries from Leland and Camden to Warner, and the attempts of more modern historians and archaeologists to interpret and explain – not infrequently to debunk and explain away – which, ironically, often succeed merely in adding fresh layers of myth. A whole sub-mythology of Chalice Well, for instance, begins effectively with a paper read to this Society by G. W. Wright in 1886, and apparently added to by the eminent Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) to whose daughter, Anne, Alice Buckton, sometime owner of the Well, was godmother.[3] And then there is the body of even more eccentric modern belief, ranging from the Blue Bowl to Flying Saucers.

Such elements, of course, may be found elsewhere, but at very few places, certainly in Britain, in such concentration or with such persistence. John Cooper Powys summed it all up rather well in 1933, in his novel A Glastonbury Romance, where he has a character say:

There are only about half a dozen reservoirs of world-magic on the whole surface of the globe – Jerusalem … Rome … Mecca … Lhassa – and of these Glastonbury has the largest residue of unused power. Generations of mankind, aeons of past races, have – by their concentrated will – made Glastonbury miraculous. But since the time of that incredible fool, Henry the Eighth, the magic of Glastonbury has been unused. [4]

Large claims, some may feel, but they are not, in essence, new. Glastonbury is first called ‘Second Rome’ in a text of 1247. We first read of Glastonbury as the New Jerusalem in the pages of John of Glastonbury writing in 1342. He was quoting from a text, evidently before him, which might date from anything up to two centuries earlier.

He also includes a story set about 50 years earlier, with at least a partial basis in fact, about the Sultan of Egypt and Syria seeking and obtaining a talisman of Glastonbury earth on account of its special sanctity to the person he would have called Mariam – the Virgin Mary, of course, having the same significance in the Quran as in the New Testament.

When Powys’ character called Glastonbury’s magic ‘unused’ he meant, I assume, that no world-religion had claimed it as its special holy city – a deficiency now made good by the ‘New Age’ movement. Even then he was not entirely correct : from the 1890’s both the resurgent English Roman Catholics. and the then influential Anglo-Catholics, had competed to claim Glastonbury’s spiritual mantle. The English Roman Catholics, politically emancipated in 1829 (but not admitted to higher education until as late as 1871) had caused renewed unease with the restoration of a parallel episcopal hierarchy in 1850, and again with the building of Westminster Cathedral (1895-1903). They were sensitive to a charge of being somehow alien to English life. For them, a focus on the martyred Abbot Whiting and his two companion monks could demonstrate that to be Roman Catholic might be very English indeed. Whiting was beatified by the Roman church in May 1895, and commemorated in a prominent national Pilgrimage to Glastonbury that September. The following year, 1896, Anglo-Catholic hopes were dashed when Pope Leo XIII accepted the findings a committee of enquiry which denied the validity of Anglican Orders. Anglicans staged their own national Pilgrimage here in 1897, following the Lambeth Conference. For some Anglo-Catholics, a literal interpretation of the stories of Joseph of Arimathea, for which the Rev. L. S. Lewis, Vicar of Glastonbury, was eventually to become the leading advocate, could demonstrate that the Church of England, far from being an innovation of Henry VIII, was in fact older than that of Rome. Interestingly, neither side seemed actually to claim ownership of Glastonbury – rather they appealed to its traditions to support their own positions. The occult people – Goodchild, Bond, Dion Fortune etc. – took their que very much from the churchmen, using Glastonbury as an appropriate testing-ground or a laboratory to validate their own ideas. It is impossible to properly explain the so-called ‘Avalonians’ in the decade or so before and again following the Great War without reference to the sometimes quite bitter sectarian rivalry in the background. This also determined that the Abbey ruins passed from private hands not, as might otherwise have been the case, to the National Trust or the  Ministry of Works, but, uniquely, to trustees of the Church of England. A small Somerset market town as a seat of spiritual authority, then – if as antiquaries we are interested in Glastonbury’s past, then we must surely be interested in how this singular concept has come about.

There is, of course, a standard scholarly explanation. In brief, it asserts that Glastonbury was a perfectly ordinary, if wealthy, Anglo-Saxon and Norman monastery until the fire of 25 May 1184, when all was destroyed. With financial concessions from King Henry II, rebuilding began apace, the Lady Chapel, a representation in stone of the famous wooden ‘Old Church’ which it replaced, being ready for re-consecration in 1186. On the accession of Richard I in 1189, however, who needed money for his adventures in the Middle East, Glastonbury’s funds dried up. It was at this point that the pretended discovery of King Arthur’s grave occurred (in 1190 or 1191), a cunning plan by the monks to generate new revenue. Jerry Samson, in papers read to this Society, has convincingly demonstrated, through examination of datable building phases at Glastonbury and Wells and use of the abbey’s Doulting quarry for both sites, that Glastonbury’s fortunes did indeed improve following 1190, allowing rebuilding to proceed; whether this was the successful outcome of a premeditated scheme, however, is another matter. It is maintained that the Abbey was spurred on by its success to then appropriate the Arimathean stories from the popular Grail-cycle of fiction which evolved in the early thirteenth century, and so the concept of Glastonbury as a place of myth was born. Unfortunately for the sceptics, this explanation simply does not work, as an unprejudiced examination of the ample materials surviving from before 1184 will show.

What’s in a Name?

It is worth beginning with the observation that the fundamental place-name would appear to be not Glastonbury, but Glaston. The simplex survives in the hundred name, Glaston Twelve Hides, and still on occasion in more rustic patterns of local speech. Warner, in 1826, was essentially correct when the entitled his classic study A History of the Abbey of Glaston and the Town of Glastonbury. Latinised as Glastonia this form is used consistently in the first Life of Dunstan of c. 1000, and by William of Malmesbury, the title of whose tract of c. 1130, De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae, means ‘On the Antiquity of the Church of Glaston,’ – not, as usually rendered, Glastonbury.

All are agreed that this name is of Celtic origin. The first syllable is the common Celtic colour-word glas. Like most ancient colour terms, its precise application is variable, ranging from green through inky blue to grey or even metallic. Glastonia has been connected to Gaulish glastum, woad, which yielded a blue dye; a better etymology is Cornish glastann, meaning, literally, something like green twigs or branches, but applied in place-names, collectively, to ‘oaks.’ Derry, in the north of Ireland, has the same meaning, using a different Celtic word for ‘oaks.’ There is little evidence for the natural abundance or cultivation of woad at Glastonbury, but it has been noted from the 18th century for its venerable oaks, and doubtless they grew just as well in earlier times. It is worth noting, in passing, that both woad and oaks had their ritual, as well as their workaday, aspects in Celtic culture.

However, without consideration of its actual etymology, Glaston might appear to represent merely the English for ‘glass town’ and – sure enough – Caradoc of Llancarfon, writing around 1135, says in his Life of Gildas : ‘Glastonia, id est Urbs Vitria – Glaston, that is City of Glass,’ adding ‘which had its name originally in the British tongue.’ [5] This puts us at once in the realms of myth. ‘City of Glass’ is in Welsh Caer Wydr. It is used in Welsh poetry as one of the synonyms for Annwfn, the Other World (the ‘in world,’ with implications of depth, sometimes paired in later Welsh poetry with uffern, Hell). This is in part Fairy Land and in part the realm of the ancestors, the ancient dead. In all Celtic traditions, it is seen either as lying within the green-hill, actually or symbolically the burial mound, or as an island to the West, where the sun sets. Glastonbury’s odd geography, with the striking eminence of the Tor, formerly almost surrounded by a great meander of the river Brue, amid the westerly marshes, happens to accord with both models. Sure enough, Caradoc writes in the context of the abduction of Guennuvar (sic) by the otherworldly character Melvas and Arthur’s attempts to recover her. Past attempts to use this story to bolster archaeological interpretation of the Tor as a kind of hill-fort were misguided: this is a Welsh version of a widespread seasonal myth most familiar in the Greek story of Persephone.

The Spoils of Annwfn, a Welsh poem of perhaps 10th-century composition, tells of a boating expedition by Arthur and his warriors to free a prisoner and win magical treasures from the Other World island. This is at least one probable archetype of the later French Grail stories. Here the Other World is called by a series of names, one of which is Caer Wydr.

Not for the last time, we face here a ‘chicken and egg’ question. Has accidental resemblance to a name in Welsh poetic myth influenced perceptions of Glastonbury, or have beliefs about Glastonbury influenced the development of Welsh myth? Welsh tradition was certainly aware of Glastonbury – Rygyfarch, in the earliest Life of St David (c.1090), claims it, along with Bath, as his foundation. William of Malmesbury’s story that David came to consecrate the Old Church, but had his hand pierced by Christ as a sign that He had already done so, probably represents a corrective of this claim.[6] Outside of our period, the Life of St Collen (earliest manuscript 16th century, but probable of early 13th-century composition) associates the Tor with Gwynn, the fairy-king and the wild hunter in Welsh folklore, who, like Ider (one of Arthur’s men, associated in 1247 with Brent Knoll) is ‘ap Nudd’ in Welsh, son of Nodens, a former god who had his great Romano-Celtic temple at Lydney-on-Seven, probably associated with the Severn bore.

One of the other names of the island-fortress in Spoils of Annwfn is Caer Sidi, ‘City of the Fairies.’ Sidi is not, apparently, truly Welsh, but a loan-word from Old Irish.[7] It is identical with that pronounced in modern Gaelic as shee. Shee may mean either the fairies, or the hill in which they live. Schiehallion, the noted mountain in Perthshire – ‘Fairy-Hill of the Caledonians’ – contains the word. As we shall see, Glastonbury was a centre for Irish influence in south-western Britain.

William of Malmesbury gives a related name as the supposed original Welsh name of Glastonbury, Inniswitrin, which means ‘Island of Glass.’ This appears to be a parallel formation modelled on Caer Wydr. It is not an idiosyncrasy of William’s, for it reappears translated into Old French in the Arthurian poems of Chretien de Troyes. In the Erec et Enid of around 1170 we find among guests of a wedding Maheloas, lord of the Isle de Voirre, the ‘Isle of Glass’ : ‘In this island no thunder is heard, no lightening strikes, nor tempests rage, nor do toads or serpents exist there, nor is it ever too hot or too cold.’ Other guest include Guigomar, lord of the Isle of Avalon, a friend of Morgan the Fay, Davit of Tintagel, and Count Brandes of Gloucester, a west-country grouping.

In the Lancelot, of perhaps around 1177, we find that Meleagant, son of the king of Gorre (variant forms of the same names), has taken the Queen off into ‘the kingdom whence no foreigner returns,’ which also includes Bath. His stronghold is surrounded by water and approached by a ‘water bridge’ and what is called a ‘sword bridge’ – conceived as an actual giant sword. Beneath the fanciful descriptions we may perhaps discern Pomparles Bridge and the defended causeway through the marsh at Havyatt. [8]

A variant version of the Queen’s abduction is to be seen carved on the archivolt of Modena Cathedral; dating between 1099 and the 1120’s, it is older than the written versions. It identifies both Arthur and the knight Isdernus (Ider), perhaps Lancelot’s predecessor as lover and rescuer of the Queen. So in Welsh, Anglo-Norman, and Old French sources, Glastonbury is identified with the Otherworldly aspects of Arthurian legend well before the fire of 1184.

Alongside Glastonia we find in Anglo-Saxon sources the forms Glastingaburh and Glastingaea; ea meant ‘island’ or ‘land largely surrounded by water;’ burh (modern ‘borough’) meant an enclosed place, a place of security, anything from a military fortress to a mere hedge and ditch to keep the livestock in and strangers out. In a sub-group of names it indicates a monastic enclosure, as at Malmesbury. The –inga– element indicted the burh and the ea belonged to a group of people. Such a ‘community’ name might be formed from that of an individual or from some natural feature etc. In a sub-group, again, they may indicate a monastic community. So, the Old English forms denote the ‘monastic enclosure’ and the ‘island’ of the monastic community of Glastonia. The modern form ‘Glastonbury’ is generally supposed to derive from OE Glastingaburh, but this should become ‘Glastingbury or -borough’ in modern English. ‘Glaston-bury’ may represent a new coinage for the area of planned 12th-century burgage plots to the north of the Abbey precinct.

It is uncertain precisely when Glastonbury originated as an Anglo-Saxon monastic institution. West-Saxon political control of Somerset conventionally begins in 658, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Cenwalh ‘fought at Peonum’ – traditionally Penselwood on the present Somerset/Wiltshire border, although the Pens at Yeovil have also been suggested – ‘against the Welsh and drove then in flight as far as the Parret.’ Here in the west-country there was no large-scale ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the Welsh were protected, though with a lower status, under the West-Saxon laws of Ine (688-726).

A Glastonbury land-charter attributed to King Cenwalh exists, dated 670, but this is regarded by modern scholars as spurious. The first charter universally accepted as a genuine grant is a lost charter of King Centwine to Abbot Haemgils [S1666], dated 678, de insula Glastonie, ‘of the island of Glaston,’ reckoned at 6 hides. It is noted in  first place in the surviving contents-list of the Saxon Liber Terrarum (in Old English the Landboc). This may represent a foundation charter, as Mathew Blows forcibly argued in 1991, or represent a re-foundation, bringing an existing pre-Saxon church within the Anglo-Saxon legal and land-holding framework, as Heather Edwards suggested in 1988.[9] The oldest charter to survive as a single document is the grant, by the sub-king Baldred to Abbot Haemgils, of West Penard, dated 681, mentioning the church of ‘St Mary & St Patrick’ (Longleat House, muniment 10564), a tenth-century copy or adaptation of the original text.

The evidence as at present understood suggests that Haemgils was the first Saxon abbot, appointed by King Centwine, who reigned from 676 to 685, when he appears to have been overthrown. Aldhelm noted he retired as a monk, and this may have been at Glastonbury. William of Malmesbury read his name on one of the ‘pyramids’ – high crosses – beside the Old Church and so suggested he was buried here. Both of his immediate successors, Cadwalla (in 688) and Ine (in 728), abdicated and went to Rome to end their lives there in an atmosphere of holiness.

The reason we know so little of the early history of Glastonbury is that Bede, the main authority for the period, whose Eccesiastical History was completed in 734, makes no mention of it. It is worth speculating on the possible reasons for this. Bede was a Northumbrian in the days of that kingdom’s political and cultural supremacy, and Wessex was peripheral to his interests. His silence may indicate no more than Glastonbury’s actual unimportance at this date; or past connections to British or un-reformed Irish communities might be distasteful to him, strong supporter as he was of the Roman party as against the insular churches; or he may have disapproved of Glastonbury for other reasons.  In a letter of 734 to Bishop Egbert of York he complained of what he saw as the growing number of lax or fraudulent monasteries. It is interesting, therefore, that our first vignette of Glastonbury life is not one of storied sanctity. It is a letter, not precisely dated but contemporary with Bede, from Brihtwold, Archbishop of Canterbury, to Forthhere, Bishop of Sherborne from 709 to 731, then Glastonbury’s diocesan bishop :

To his most reverend and holy fellow-bishop Forthhere, Brihtwold, servant of the servants of God, sends greeting in the Lord.

Since my petition, which I made in your presence to the venerable Abbot Beorwold about the ransoming of a captive girl, who has kinsmen among us, has, contrary to my expectation, proved in vain, and I am importuned afresh by their entreaties, I have considered it best to send this letter to you by the brother of the girl, Eppa by name.

By it I implore you to obtain from the aforesaid abbot that he will accept 300 shillings for that girl by the hand of the bearer of these presents; and give her over to him to be conducted hither, that she can pass the remainder of her life with her relations, not in the sadness of servitude, but in the joy of liberty.

When your kindness brings this about, you will have both a reward from God and thanks from me. Also, in my opinion, our brother Beorwold loses nothing of what rights he had in her.

The sum of 300 shillings was the compensation-value of a noble in contemporary Kentish law, so clearly the girl was aristocratic. Equally clearly, the archbishop felt it inappropriate to make any general pronouncement on the propriety of the situation at that point, but it would not seem difficult to guess what the Venerable Bede’s reaction might have been.[10]

It is worth pausing here to ask the question of whether Glastonbury was ever at any time a double house, with monks and nuns in different quarters in the same institution, and ruled by an abbess. These were widespread in the seventh and eighth centuries (the most famous being at Whitby) and there are one or two hints that this may once have been so here. A nun called Lulla gave an estate at Baltonsborough in 744, a female skeleton of middle-Saxon date was found buried with presumed monks at Beckery, and holy women lived near the Abbey in Dunstan’s day. Two later Arthurian romances have nuns and an abbess at Glastonbury where we might expect monks.

We read of Abbot Beorwald somewhat earlier in a more respectable context. In Willibald’s Life of St Boniface (written before 769) we read of a West-Saxon synod in the reign of Ine, around 704-5, attended by, among others, ‘Beorwald, who governed by divine ordinance the monastery which is called by the name given by the men of old, Glestingaburh..’ [11] This name, as we have seen, was an Anglo-Saxon form and so cannot have been literally older than 658, but Willibald used a similar expression of Exeter and so seems to wish to indicate that Glastonbury was not of very recent origin.

The question now arises of whether there was actually a pre-Saxon church at Glastonbury, as has traditionally been assumed. Archaeology at present is unhelpful. A radio-carbon date from a ditch in Silver Street equates to c. 670; this was assumed to be an extension of a north-south ditch in the Abbey grounds regarded by Radford as the boundary of the earliest monastic enclosure. So far as it goes, this date is consistent with the charter evidence. One difficulty is that we have no idea of what a sub-Roman monastery in this formerly highly Romanised region ought to look like archaeologically, and models like that of Radford, derived from the highland zone, may not be appropriate here. We must also recognise that even at such sites as Iona and Lindisfarne, the strictly archaeological, as opposed to documentary, evidence is scarcely more impressive that at Glastonbury.

Here, no satisfactory documentary evidence exists. William of Malmesbury’s claim to have seen a pre-Saxon charter can inspire little confidence. However, Geoffrey Ashe, in Avalonian Quest, 1983, (pp. 142-3) suggested that the monastic church of the Mother of God in which Constantine of Dumnonnia, around 540 (‘in this very year’ says Gildas, our authority, who seems to know a great deal about the affair), disguised as an abbot, murdered two princes in the presence of their mother, was Glastonbury. This church clearly lay within Constantine’s reach, but presumably outside his immediate jurisdiction (otherwise, why the subterfuge?) and Ashe correctly points out that dedications to the Virgin were rare at this early date. Although his suggestion has met with predictable silence from the academic mainstream, it is worthy of consideration.

A pre-Saxon monastery might be British (as Gildas might imply), already Irish (the early 7th century was the great age of Irish foundations on the continent, and, more locally, probably at neighbouring Malmesbury), or even Frankish – or, indeed, any combination thereof.

A possible Frankish connection has received little attention but, for what little it is worth, the second of the three names which William of Malmesbury offers as those of pre-Saxon abbots, Lademund, is certainly Germanic, and probably continental Germanic. Franks were active in the early West-Saxon church. Birinus, from 635 the first bishop of the West Saxons, seated at Dorchester-on-Thames, was probably of Frankish origin, and was pursuing a mission to Wessex independent of Canterbury. Agilbert, the second bishop of Dorchester-on-Thames (c. 650 – c. 660), was a Frank already in episcopal orders who had studied scripture in Ireland ‘for no little time,’ according to Bede. He left Wessex in pique after Cenwalh set up a second see at Winchester (according to Bede, because he tired of Agilbert’s foreign accent), and attended the Synod of Whitby in 664 independently. He returned to Frankia, becoming bishop of Paris in 667. Asked to return by Cenwalh in 670, he instead dispatched another Frank, his nephew Leuthere, to become second bishop of Winchester. Agilbert was buried beside his sister, Theodchilde in the crypt of her church at Jouarre, some 20 miles east of Paris. Their tombs both survive, and suggest the probable appearance of the two stone ‘pyramids’ noted by William of Malmesbury as standing to the north and south of the altar inside the Old Church. In his day, the southern tomb contained the relics of St Patrick and the northern those of St Indract (and also of St Hilda). As Patrick died centuries before Indract, who was represented as being murdered on pilgrimage to his tomb, these paired monuments are unlikely to have been originally constructed to those ends. It is more likely they were early sarcophagi reused as reliquaries. If Centwine was the royal founder, or re-founder, of Glastonbury, and Haemgils his first abbot, then the ‘pyramids’ may originally have been their tombs. A charter text mentions the tomb of Haemgils as if it were a special place.

Tomb of  Theodechilde, Jouare.

Tomb of Agilbert

St Patrick and Irish Influence at Glastonbury

Little more is known of Saxon Glastonbury before the Viking Age. The construction of the first of a series of stone churches to the east of the Old Church was later credited to Ine. Our earliest narrative source for Glastonbury is the first Life of St Dunstan, composed around 1000 AD by a priest who gives us only his initial, B. (See below, note 1). He had evidently known Dunstan as Abott of Glastonbury, and we may be confident, therefore, that his text reflects Dunstan’s own views, acquired as he grew up in the locality and attended school at the Abbey in the early 10th century. This text is the earliest to tell us of Irish influence at Glastonbury :

There were Irish pilgrims who with great fervour also joined the other crowds of faithful people at the place of which I have already spoken – namely Glastonia; they came to pay especial honour on account of the Blessed Patrick [the Younger (Arras MS); the Elder (Cotton MS)] who had the distinction, it was said, of lying asleep in the Lord in that place. Dunstan with great diligence devoured their books of philosophy about the way of the true faith and about other prudent men, whom he perceived to be at one with the holy Fathers by the disposition and affirmation of their inmost heart, and he always examined them with relentless scrutiny.

Glastonbury’s Irish connections are certainly genuine. James Carley has identified a fragment of an Irish book like those referred to. Charlie and Nancy Hollinrake have recently drawn attention once more to the Irish character of the excavated plan of the small chapel to the west of the Old Church, a point also noted by Radford in 1984. Irish annals and martyologies refer to Glastonbury, and Dunstan was commemorated in a twelfth-century Irish poem. Alongside Patrick, the Irish saints Briget, Bennen, and Indract were also venerated at Glastonbury. Indract, as mentioned, was said to have been murdered by thieves near Glastonbury while on a visit to the shrine of Patrick. He is probably to be identified with Indrechtach, Abbot of Iona, whom the Irish annals record as being martyred ‘among the Saxons’ in 854, which might suggest that the cult was well established by that date. Never-the-less, few topics have roused the scorn of Glastonbury’s sceptics so much as its cult of St Patrick. Finberg published a paper on the subject in 1969 which has had a generally malign influence on Glastonbury historiography, and even Lesly Abrams’ paper of 1993, the most recent thorough treatment, seems to me unnecessarily defensive. In reality, the renown of St Patrick today is entirely a product of modern Irish nationalism, not least in its more sentimental American aspects, and is no more than a century and a half old, if that. In the early 10th century there was no kudos in the cult of an overseas saint who had been so obscure in England that Bede failed to mention him. If, as is certainly the case, English and Irish sources independently attest the cult, then there must have been good reasons for it. The matter is, however, extremely complex and there is room here only to glance at a few selected aspects, but Patrick is too central to the evolution of ideas about Glastonbury to be entirely passed by.

The most important Irish source, and one with which Ms Abrams fails to engage, is the Glossary of Cormac – a sort of  ‘Brewer’s Phrase & Fable’ for Irish writers and poets, offering explanations of unusual words and legendary allusions, composed originally around 900. In the article on ‘the first lapdog that was in Ireland,’ whose name was Mug-Éime, we read [12] :

for when great was the power of the Gael on Britain, they divided Alba between them into districts, and each knew the residence of his friend, and not less did the Gael dwell on the east side of the sea quam in Scotica [i.e. Ireland] and their habitations and royal forts were built there … et inde est Glastonbury of the Gael, i.e. a church on the border [Ir.: bru] of the Ictian sea [the Sea of Vectis, Wight, i.e. the Channel]. It is there was Glass son of Cass, swineherd of the king of Hiruaith, with his swine feeding beside a fruit tree and it was he that Patrick resuscitated at the end of six score years after he was slain by the soldiers of Mac Con. [Irish : et inde est Glastimbir na nGaoidel .i. cell for brú Marae hicht. Iss ed árus indsin i rraba Glass mac Caiss muccid rígh Hirúaite oc a muccaib for mess, is é indsin rodersaig Patraic íartoin sé fichit bliadain íarna guin do fíanaib Maic Con.] … Thus every tribe divided on that side, for its property to the east was equal [to that on the west] and they continued in this power till long after the coming of Patrick.

Other Irish sources tell the same story of the giant, but place the event in Ireland. Again, we face the ‘chicken and egg’ question – have Irish mythological scholars exported an Irish story to Somerset – perhaps assisted by a resemblance of proper names (Glass the giant, Glaston the place) or has a Somerset story been re-located to Ireland? We lack the data to decide, but we can be sure that in this case both narrative and cult practice were shared. The sources which place the giant incident in Ireland – the earliest seemingly being Tirechan, writing perhaps around 670 – do so at a point in Patrick’s legend shortly after his ascent of Croagh Patrick (also called Cruachan Aile and ‘the Reek’) in County Mayo, a mountain rising above the western sea. Here Patrick fasted against God for forty days and nights to win from God the right to judge the Irish at the general resurrection. His posthumous baptism of the giant is a kind of anticipation of this privilege. To this day, a penitential cult of Patrick exists on Croagh Patrick in which people ascend the rocky mountain path, sometimes barefoot. Although some four times as big, rising to just over 2000 feet, Croagh Patrick very much resembles the Tor, not merely in its situation, looking towards the western sea, but in its distinctive shape. Until the thirteenth century, at least, the Tor was the site of a similar penitential cult. That much-maligned but fascinating document, the so-called ‘Charter of St Patrick,’ one of the interpolated sections of the 1247 text of William of Malmesbury’s work De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae, tells how Patrick fasted on the Tor for ninety days and was rewarded by a vision of Jesus. Patrick granted a hundred days indulgence to any who would clear the paths up the hill of scrub. [13]

Croagh Patrick

It is clear that there was no consensus within early Ireland about Patrick’s place of burial and no primary relics (bodily remains) for pilgrims to venerate. One strand of tradition maintained that, like Moses, his grave was unknown. This in turn implies a lack of continuity in both foundation and cult. It is known that major political changes occurred in the north of Ireland in the generation following Patrick’s death (originally dated by the Irish Annals, according to Dumville, to 493) which are likely to be responsible for this hiatus. From the mid-7th century, for reasons not well understood, the church at Armagh, which had been a cult-centre as far back as the Bronze Age, made a claim to be the metropolitan see of all Ireland, basing this on a promise made by an angel to St Patrick. The (probably 7th-century) Liber Angeli, the ‘Book of the Angel,’ implies that Patrick rested at Armagh.[14] Even Armagh, however, could not compete with other traditions that Patrick lay at Saul, or at nearby Down (today Downpatrick, County Down), another ancient site, recorded by Ptolomy in the 2nd century as Dunum, a common Celtic term for a hill-fort. In Irish ecclesiastical sources, however, it is called Dun Leithglaisse as the place of Patrick’s burial. Some late manuscripts apply this name instead to Glastonbury. Once again, we have a shared legend and a partial resemblance of proper names. The more often coincidence is invoked, the less convincing it becomes. Again, there is also a geographical similarity. Before drainage, Down, like Glastonbury, was an ‘island’ of higher land surrounded by marsh, joined to the mainland by a narrow neck of dry ground.[15] Leth, literally a ‘half’ or a ‘division,’ is used in place-names to indicate the ‘share’ of a tribe or group, functioning effectively as a folk-name. Dun Lethglaisse would mean ‘the secure place of the portion of (the people of) Glass.’ It might conceivably even be an attempt to represent Anglo-Saxon Glastingaburgh in Old Irish. As none of the sources in which it appears can be shown to be older than the last quarter of the 7th century, there is no necessary chronological difficulty here. Was there some early connection between the churches of Glastonbury and of Down? We have already noted Irish foundations in England, and it is known from Bede that English monks who refused to adopt Roman customs after the Synod of Whitby (664) founded a house in Ireland at Mayo. This is called in Irish sources ‘Mayo of the Saxons,’ paralleling Cormac’s ‘Glastonbury of the Gael.’

St. Patrick’s grave, Downpatrick

Glastonbury’s cult must be considered in the light of Patrick’s probable origins. His so-called Confession, an impassioned defence written in Ireland against critics back home in Britain, has survived to us. In this he tells us much about his background and his parents’ home. His family were upper-middle-class Romano-Britons, at least third-generation Christians. His grandfather had been a priest. His father was a deacon, and also a decurion, roughly equivalent to our county-councillor, who owned a villula (a diminutive of ‘villa’) – which in context we may translate as a ‘modest country estate’ – with a good number of servants or slaves, near an unidentified place called Banavem Taburniae. Generations of scholars have not liked this name and have tried to change it, but it makes as tolerably good sense as most Romano-British place-names. The first part means something like ‘towards the hills’ and the second ‘of the taverns’ – in Roman usage booths or shops, including, as today, drinking establishments. A roadside place is indicated, consistent with the father’s need to commute easily to the local cantonal capital where his municipal duties lay. Fosse Lane, Shepton Mallet, fifteen miles up the Fosse Way from Ilchester – even without the ‘shamulet’ – would fit the profile admirably.[16] We may be sure it lay somewhere within the highly Romanised region around the Severn Sea, for Patrick was seized at about the age of fifteen by Irish pirates, who carried him back to Ireland with many of his father’s people and sold him as a slave. Patrick wrote in the Vulgar Latin spoken in Roman Britain, regretting that he was captured before he could go on the third stage of  Roman education, in which he would have learned rhetoric and the finer points of written Classical Latin – the kind of background of higher education implied by the 4th-century mosaic of Dido and Anaeas in the villa at Low Ham, Somerset. Raiders might come and go, but Patrick’s home region was still fundamentally stable – after six years he escaped, and made his way back to his parents, who remained, apparently, prosperous. While away, as is not uncommon with prisoners, he had found God, his religion previously having been of the socially conventional kind. It is evident that he entered some ecclesiastical establishment, probably a monastery as he thought highly of monks and nuns, and studied for the priesthood. It was there that he dreamt he received a letter from the Irish begging him to return as a missionary. His superiors, seniores, opposed this vocation, as did his parents, who begged him not to leave them once more and offered him material inducements not to go. This tells us that his monastery was not far from his parental home. The Irish scholar Thomas O’Rahilly, in 1942, thought this might have been Glastonbury, and Bishop Hanson, in 1968, wrote ‘Where his monastery was we can only guess; if we are to guess, I should fix on Glastonbury.’ [17] Certainly, Glastonbury was the only place in the south-western British mainland where a cult was eventually to grow. It is evident that the Irish missions, with which in the next generation Gildas was also associated, must have had a British home base. It is to here that Patrick must have addressed his letters and his defence against those, perhaps his original critical seniores, who seem to have implied that he was unfit for episcopal orders and conducted his mission improperly. We would give a great deal to know where those authentic writings were preserved, and whether in Britain or in Ireland. If we argue with Matthew Blows that Glastonbury was a new Saxon foundation, then it may still have absorbed traditions, even manuscripts or relics, from some older pre-Saxon foundation in the region, such as those suspected at Sherbourne or Wells. If Glastonbury were that home base, however, then a great deal might be explained.

No one who reads Patrick’s moving declaration in his Confession that he must stay with his Irish flock until his death should be left in any doubt that this in fact was what he did. Notwithstanding, a belief grew up at Glastonbury that he had indeed left them and returned to Britain, ending his life here, and the Irish scholar James Carney, writing in 1961, speculated that, ill at the end of his life, he might have ‘felt released from his vow not to leave Ireland, returned to Britain and died at the monastery from which he had come, which, if this be so, may perhaps be identified as the monastery of Glastonbury.’[18] The question is complicated in that more than one individual was remembered in Irish tradition under the name of Patrick. It is clear even from Patrick’s own writings that he was not the first individual to carry the Christian message to Ireland. It is known from the contemporary writings of Propser of Aquitane that in 431 Pope Celestine sent one Palladius ‘as their first bishop to the Irish who believe in Christ.’ This person seemingly left no memory in Irish tradition, causing puzzlement when Irish Christians in the early 7th century became aware of the continental record. The Irishman Tirechan, writing at an uncertain date in the later 7th or 8th century, asserted that Palladius was also called Patrick, and was martyred by the Irish, who subsequently received the faith from his more famous namesake. Modern scholars have identified Tirechan’s Palladius/Patrick with the mysterious figure who appears in Irish Latin texts as Senex Patricius, ‘Old Patrick.’ It is this confusion which underlies the different texts of the Life of St Dunstan, of which the older and more reliable Arras manuscript says that the saint who rested at Glastonbury was Patrick junior, whereas the slightly later Cottonian and St Gall manuscripts give Patrick senior.[19]

David Dumville, in 1993, drew attention to a little-known Anglo-Saxon martyrology of around 1000, with later additions, and with connections to Abingdon Abbey, a daughter-house of Dunstanian Glastonbury. The body of the relevant text is an interpolated version of the Carolingian ‘Martyrology of Ussuard.’ Under 17 March Ussuard’s own entry about St Patrick is found; but under 24 August Ussuard’s brief entry about St Patrick of Nevers, a Gaulish bishop, ‘has been abandoned in favour of an altogether more expansive and remarkable account’:

In Ireland the holy abbot Patrick … Which Patrick is said to have been the first teacher of the Irish; but, because he could not discipline them, he departed on pilgrimage. He came to the monastery of the Glastings (ad monasterium Glæstingense) and, growing famous for his miraculous powers, ended his life there. Even today his mortal bones are seen to attest that.

Dumville comments: ‘“Abbot Patrick” can in the present text be none other than Senex Patricius or Palladius. Here at last we have clear evidence from the English side that the source of the tenth-century Patrician cult at Glastonbury was Irish. Furthermore we have a direct statement of what must have been the abbey’s official view of the saint’s history.’

All of this is, in fact, a good deal less than clear. To argue that the historic Palladius was actually buried at Glastonbury would be to assert something even more remarkable than the tradition that the great St Patrick, author of the Confession, lay there. The latter was far more likely to have had an authentic connection with the Glastonbury region, and if Glastonbury was indeed a base for the Irish missions, his relics might have been brought back there after his death to safeguard them from political troubles (known to have occurred) or possible pagan reaction in Ireland. The same might apply to Patrick’s supposed successor, Benignus (in Irish, Benen), associated with Meare before the apparent translation of his relics to St Bennet’s Church in the late 11th century. Cormac’s location of Glastonbury in relation to the Channel, and the story of Indract, suggest it may have been a way-station for Irish pilgrims on their way to the continent. Some of these might have given relics believed to be those of Patrick. If, on the other hand, we assert the cult was manufactured at some time preceding Dunstan’s boyhood, then it must be demonstrated which Patrick those responsible believed they were commemorating, and that they understood the difference. To the unwary, after all, it might seem obvious that Patrick senior was the Apostle of Ireland, and not, as was actually the case, Patrick junior. The late-10th-century martyrology, like the alternate glosses of the Life of Dunstan, need indicate no more than that Irish confusion about Patrick, the ‘problem of the two Patricks,’ as Dumville observes, ‘had spilled over into England.’ Dunstan’s first biographer displayed little knowledge of history and I suspect that he actually wrote simply ‘Patrick,’ the qualifying junioris or senioris each being added by later copyists as an attempt at clarification. It is probable that the oldest Glastonbury tradition, like that of the Welsh annals, was unaware of what Dumville calls ‘distinctions among Patricks.’ [20]

The Legend of the Old Church.

By William of Malmesbury’s day in the 1120s, the tradition represented by the martyrology had been expanded to make Patrick the founder of Glastonbury as an organised monastery. The Old Church, however, was held to have had a much more ancient origin. Dunstan’s earliest biographer records of his place of birth :

There was adjacent, moreover, a certain island, a royal place of former men, called of old in the neighbourhood by the name of Glaestonia, lying hidden from other places by broad, curving rivers flowing around it, slow moving and full of fish, fitted to the use of many poor people, as well as holy men, who are the greatest number, for it is consecrated and given over to God.

For it was in that very place indeed that the first neophytes of the Catholic law were told of old by God to repair a church, not built by the skill of men (hominum arte), but rather prepared in heaven for the salvation of mankind; afterwards the Maker of the heavens Himself demonstrated by many miraculous deeds and virtuous mysteries that this church was consecrated to His Mother, Mary. Here also they came to add an oratory built of stone, which at the behest of Christ Himself they dedicated to St Peter the Apostle. Thereafter, a great number of all the faithful round about would gather there, and would humbly frequent the precious place on that island. (Stubbs op. cit., p. 6-7).

To the determined rationalist, this account might seem no more odd than most medieval religious beliefs; to anyone with a knowledge of how Christian ideas actually evolved within history, however, it must seem very remarkable indeed. As a consequence, it has been largely ignored by scholars, but it is the basis of  much of the later mythic development.

The problems it raises are numerous. The phrase ‘the first neophytes of the Catholic law,’ unqualified, can really only refer to the Apostles, those first instructed by Christ. These might be either the famous Twelve, or some of the Seventy of Luke 10:1. Counter-intuitively, their presence in itself is not a great problem. Several 4th-century Fathers of the Church held that the apostles, in obedience to Christ’s command, had literally gone to the ends of the earth, including Britain. Gildas was familiar with this idea, dating the arrival of the Faith between the last days of Tiberius and the rebellion of Boudica (probably reflecting no more than a vague awareness that both it, and the first persecutions, in which many of the apostolic generation died, were events of the reign of Nero). Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury and bishop of Sherbourne (died 704) knew Gildas’s work and so it would have been accessible to early Saxon Glastonbury. William of Malmesbury understood this apostolic interpretation, writing :

Moreover, there are documents of no small credit, which have been discovered in certain places, to the following effect:— “No other hands than those of the disciples of Christ erected the church of Glastonbury.” Nor is it inconsistent with probability : for if Philip the apostle preached to the Gauls, as Freculfus relates in the fourth chapter of his second book, it may be believed that he also planted the Word on the hither side of the channel. But that I may not seem to disappoint my readers’ expectation by vain imaginations, leaving all doubtful matter, I shall proceed to the relation of substantial truths.

William preferred an alternative model of Britain’s Christian origins whereby missionaries were sent at the request of a fictitious King Lucius around 190 AD – a 6th-century story found in the Book of the Pontiffs and from thence in Bede. Eventually, after William’s day, one strand of thought identified Joseph of Arimathea as Philip’s agent. Another strand, however, evidently found the Dunstanian account something of an embarrassment. William himself rationalises the original account in having the disciples build, rather than merely repair, the Old Church. The interpolated version of William’s work in the 1247 Trinity College manuscript goes further, quoting a version of B and attributing the passage to a historian of the Britons (it has been suggested that ‘B’ was thought to stand for ‘Briton’), and alters the text to read ‘the first English neophytes of the Catholic law’ (my emphasis), thus changing the sense completely. The point of the original story is that no one builds the church – it comes from heaven.

Although various icons, usually of Eastern origin, are traditionally regarded as ‘not made by hands’ (in Greek acheiropoeton) – of supernatural origin or painted with angelic assistance – there seems no parallel for a church building. A description of a church as ‘not made by art of men’ could not fail to remind its monastic readers of a remark attributed to Christ concerning the Jerusalem Temple in St Mark’s Gospel (14:58) – ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another not made with hands.’

The expression ‘not made with hands’ recurs in various New Testament passages, including 2 Corinthians (5:1-2), where St Paul says that after the dissolution of the body ‘we have a building of God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.’ We long, he says, to ‘to put on our dwelling-place out of heaven’

These passages refer to the resurrected body, but the Dunstanian account also brings to mind the New Jerusalem. St John, in his vision on Patmos (Rev 21:2; 22:10), sees ‘the city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of the heaven from God having been prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’ The Dunstanian passage is clearly the origin of ideas of Glastonbury as the New Jerusalem.

Understanding of the Glastonbury story has been hampered by absence of parallels. Its nearest approximation in time and place is the apparently 12th-century story of Wallsingham. Here, a woman was inspired by a vision to build a replica of Mary’s little house at Nazareth. The Life of Dunstan was known in East Anglia (the Cottonian manuscript came from Bury St Edmund’s) and it is probable that the Walsingham legend was at least in part inspired by that of Glastonbury. We do not find another European parallel until the emergence of the cult of the Holy House of Loretto. This concerned (again) Mary’s house from Nazareth, here transported entire to Italy by angels to keep it from Moslem hands. This event is supposed to have occurred in the early 14th century, although the cult is not recorded before the 15th – far too late to assist interpretation of Glastonbury, although ironically it was introduced here by the penultimate abbot, Bere, after his return from Italy in 1504.

The Burnt Monastery

Here the talk examined a more helpful parallel in the story of the Burnt Monastery, Deir al Muharraq, in Middle Egypt. As I have already examined this tradition and its possible relevance to Glastonbury at some length in my study, Some Coptic Parallels to Glastonbury Legend, in Glastonbury Review Vol. XIV, No. 117, June 2009, pp. 79-117, this section is here omitted.]

But why should Glastonbury rather than, say, Wells or Sherbourne, have attracted such apocryphal material in the first place, and why was it felt to be so especially sacred to Mary? We are unlikely ever to know, but that does not mean that all speculation need be unproductive. It may be that there were visions of Mary, as have occurred through the centuries at such diverse places as Guadalupe, Lourdes, and more recently, in 1967, at Zeitun in Cairo, where hundreds of people, including Muslims as well as Christians, were convinced they witnessed nightly apparitions of the Virgin walking on the roof of an undistinguished modern church. I prefer, however, to suspect that the answer may have lain in the fabric of the church building itself.

William of Malmesbury, in his description of the Old Church, tells us that ‘in the pavement may be remarked on every side stones designedly interlaid in triangles and squares, and sealed with lead, under which if I believe some sacred mystery to be contained, I do no injustice to religion.’ If this is not an attempt to describe a Roman mosaic floor then it is difficult to see what its meaning could be. Such floors were not part of the Anglo-Saxon building tradition. The sealing with lead indicates that the floor was not pristine, as this was not a feature of Roman practice and probably represents a later attempt at repair, perhaps when the wooden structure was encased in lead. The interlaid triangles and squares, however, sound very like the geometrical aspects of Roman mosaic design. It is unclear whether William meant us to understand that the ‘sacred mystery’ resided in some cabalistic interpretation applied to these designs, or in something believed to be buried underneath. He makes no mention of figurative elements in the design, and if these once existed they may have become unrecognisable by his day. Sufficient Roman finds have come to light over the years within the Abbey grounds (pottery, wells, flue tile) and in adjacent Silver Street (window glass) to be consistent with the former existence there of a villa. A great deal might be explained if the Old Church began its life as a wing or satellite building of such a villa. I first suggested this interpretation in print in 1995; more recently, in 2003, a comparable case came to light at Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, where one wing of a double villa had been converted into a baptistery. In the main room, an octagonal font large enough to allow immersion had been built into an earlier mosaic floor at a date interpreted by the excavators as the 5th century. In the northern apse, the mosaic had been left intact, and here comprised an interlace of squares and triangles (reminiscent of William’s description) and two peacocks (in early Christian iconography, symbolic of Christ) flanking a wine-mixing cup (caranthus) symbolic of the communion chalice. The total length of the wing was 56 feet, comparable to that of the Old Church.[21] The range of subject-matter which might be found on the floor of a Christian villa in the region is further illustrated by the famous Hinton St Mary mosaic, from just south of the present Somerset/Dorset border, and now in the British Museum. The central roundel features the bust of a beardless Jesus, before the chi-rho symbol, which is the finest early portrait of Christ, not only from Roman Britain, but from the entire Empire.

A building which contained mosaic might also exhibit wall paintings. The range of early Christian art in this medium may now best be studied in the Roman catacombs, but this is merely a function of survival. The common female figures with hands raised in prayer, known as orans or orantes, recurred on the walls of a private chapel in the Lullingston villa in Kent. In the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome is found what is said to be the oldest example of  the Virgin Mary in art, a seated woman with child beneath a star, to which a nearby male figure points, interpreted as the prophet Balaam (Numbers 24:17). This little group, 12-14 inches high, tucked under the architrave of a grave recess, is dated to the late 3rd century. More impressive, and larger at some two feet high, is the bust of a woman with child, her arms extended, with necklace, rich clothes and piercing eyes, facing the viewer in a commanding manner, within the arch of a similar recess in the nearby (closed) catacomb known as the Coemetarium Major. Her traditional identity with the Madonna has been questioned on the grounds of her rich attire, but this figure is of mid-4th-century date, post-dating Constantine’s elevation of the Church as the established religion of empire. It shows Mary as Queen of Heaven, the divine archetype of those great Byzantine empresses of whom Constantine’s mother, St Helena, was the earthly pattern. Here we see the Theotokos, the Mother of God, under whose banner the Byzantine armies fought. A figure such as this, surviving from the 4th century within the Old Church, would offer a very adequate foundation for its especial Marian sanctity.

Mother and Child, Coemetarium Major, Rome

Oblique light may be shed on the date of Christianity’s reception at Glastonbury by the Romano-Celtic temple whose robbed-out foundations have been recognised by Charlie and Nancy Hollinrake in the site-plan of the 1960’s excavations on the top of the Tor. Such temples are commonly square in plan but that on the Tor was round, rare in Britain and generally of earlier date. True, that at Pagan’s Hill was octagonal, and a round building might have been considered more stable than a square one on such an exposed location. However, there was an absence of the usual scatter of late-4th-century small-value bronze coins found at such sites, a factor which probably influenced the original excavator, Philip Rhatz, to reject the temple hypothesis. This is suggestive of a possible early abandonment of the site, before the cash economy had reached the lower levels of local society, stray Roman coin-finds in the area being exclusively of late-4th-century date. An obvious reason could be the public adoption of Christianity by the villa-owning landlord sooner rather than later following Constantine’s Edict of Toleration of 313.

In late-Roman Gaul, villas not uncommonly evolved into, initially, family-run monasteries, either for reasons of genuine Christian piety or baser motives of tax-evasion. A similar process may have occurred in Roman Britain. The son of Constantine III, Britain’s last imperial pretender, was recalled to public life from a monastery around 409. It is not necessary, however, to assume continuity of function from sub-Roman times at Glastonbury to argue that Roman features such as mosaic or wall-painting, surviving into the 670’s or later, may have influenced Saxon ideas of the special sanctity of the site. It is needful only that the, presumably, timber-framed wattle and daub structure itself should endure for three centuries or so, whether as church, cow-shed or squattable ruin, and many buildings of similar construction existing today are a greater age than this.

An Imperial Vision

Glastonbury’s uniquely apocryphal cult of the Virgin, its wide-ranging Irish cultural dimension, and its links with the Otherworldly traditions of Arthurian lore can all be shown to have been well established before the fire of 1184, and in some aspects by the 10th century. But what of that other strand of Arthurian legend, which saw Arthur as soldier and emperor and led to the chronicle tradition of the High Middle Ages, the Arthur to whose Glastonbury grave the Plantagenet warlords Edward I and Edward III paid homage? This, surely, has no precedent here before 1190? Even this is not quite certain. If we allow an historical Arthur, active in the South-West, as a possibility, and if Glastonbury were an important sub-Roman church, perhaps already by Gildas’s day associated with the Virgin in her Byzantine martial guise, then there is no reason why he might not have been buried here; but these are very big ‘ifs,’ and the historicity of Arthur must be judged by criteria beyond those of Glastonbury scholarship.[22]

The reception of the evolved Arthurian legend in England, however, is a quite separate matter. This is generally believed to have occurred with the appearance after 1136 of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fabulous History of the Kings of Britain. This is an error. The Arthurian legend entered English letters in the fifth year of King Edmund I – 943/4 – in the form of the so-called ‘Vatican Recension’ of the Historia Britonum, the History of the Britons, the work known to earlier generations of scholars under the name of a once supposed author, ‘Nennius.’ This Cambro-Latin text, originally compiled in northern Wales in 829/30, famously contains the account of Arthur fighting twelve great battles at the head of the petty-kings of Britain, in Byzantine manner under the image of the Virgin, which is alike the basis of the medieval Arthurian chronicle tradition and of modern attempts to uphold the historicity of Arthur. The version known as the Vatican Recension descends from an edition re-written in England, with the Latin improved and parts of the text omitted or re-arranged. The section on St Patrick was extracted from its original position and placed (along, indeed, with the chapter on Arthur which precedes it) at the end as a kind of climax. The notably sceptical David Dumville, editor of the Vatican Recension, writes : ‘It has not proved possible to identify the English church at which the “Vatican” recension was created .. A speculation may perhaps be allowed. The special treatment accorded to the text’s account of St Patrick inevitably raises the possibility that the church in question was one which had more than a passing interest in him. We know from B’s Life of St Dunstan .. that that was unusually true of Glastonbury in the first half of the tenth century, and .. that there is likely to have been a formal cult of St Patrick in tenth-century Glastonbury.’ [23]

Even if the original of the Vatican Recension was not actually produced at Glastonbury, there were few other centres where it might have originated – one might name Winchester, Canterbury, perhaps Worcester. England in the fifth year of Edmund I was, in intellectual terms, a very small place. All of these churches had, or were to have, connections with Dunstan, and its is inconceivable that the historical project represented by the Vatican Recension would be undertaken without the knowledge of  Edmund’s great councillor and most noted scholar.

All of this is of interest in the light of Raleigh Radford’s archaeological analysis of the supposed burial-site of Arthur which he believed he had identified in his excavations of 1962. He believed the disposition of the grave, with an inscribed lead cross under a large stone slab – perhaps itself originally inscribed – at the original ground-level, was the result, not of deliberate fakery in 1190, but of the raising of the monk’s cemetery carried out under Dunstan in the 10th century and of acknowledgement of the supposed burial at that date. Radford’s conclusions are the more striking in that he was apparently unaware of the Vatican Recension, although its existence had been accessibly noted in print by the great Dorothy Whitelock, both in her non-specialist book, The Beginnings of English Society, (Penguin, 1952, p. 200), and in her scholarly introduction to her edition of English Historical Documents (vol. i, c.500-1042, London, 1955, p. 126).

Radford’s photographs and detailed notes of his Glastonbury excavations have, apparently, mostly disappeared, and re-examination of his trenches with modern techniques would be most desirable should fresh excavations be undertaken. In the meantime, it is worth remarking that lead crosses were indeed a feature of late-Saxon burials. A circular lead disc, of some 4 inches (8 cm.) diameter, with an inscribed cross, which may be a coffin-plate, was found in 1898 near Bath Abbey. An inscription commemorates ‘Eadgyvu .. a sister of the community’. The script is too late for the period of the early nunnery which existed there before the Viking age. Barry Cunliffe, in 1986, supposed that the body of the nun was disturbed, perhaps in building work for the new, exclusively male, community as re-founded during the Dunstanian reform, and reinterred in the late-Saxon monastic cemetery, suitably identified, in a new coffin. This is very similar to the proceeding postulated by Radford.[24]

The general outline of the Arthur Cross as illustrated in the second (1607) edition of Camden’s Britannia is also remarkably similar to the mortuary cross of Bishop Giso (d.1088), re-discovered in Wells Cathedral in 1978.

This had been cut with shears, and shares the asymmetrical squaring of one horizontal with those shown on the wood-cut. Arthur’s cross supposedly survived in private hands down to the 18th century. The wood-cut is unlikely to show that actually found or produced in 1190, but more probably a copy or representation of that original, designed to show to visitors. The tab at the bottom makes sense only if it were designed to slot into a base, enabling the cross to stand upright., which, in turn, implies that the disposition of the lettering is not accurate, perhaps representing an attempt by the man who cut the printer’s block to get it all in. Certainly, in medieval times, graves were constantly being re-opened, and such objects might therefore be familiar to a forger of 1190. The Wells cross, however, is another piece of data unavailable to Radford in his initial analysis; he made no mention of the ‘Arthurian’ example in a note on such crosses of 11th-century and later date written in 1979 concerning the Wells example.[25]

Whether or not Radford was correct, and 10th-century awareness of the Arthurian legend drew attention to a supposed burial at Glastonbury, the question remains to be addressed as to why the circles around Edmund I, which already had Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, both in Latin and in Old English translation, and the vernacular Old English Chronicle, which at this period functioned as a vehicle of West Saxon royal propaganda, should find an English edition of the History of the Britons of the erstwhile Welsh enemy desirable? To frame the question in these terms, however, is to take too narrow a view.

Athelstan had pursued an aggressive policy against the Celtic peoples to the west and north. Unsurprisingly, this had produced a reaction, and one in which Welsh historic myth had been employed as a tool of propaganda. We know this from the survival of a remarkable poem, the Armes Prydein, the ‘Prophecy of Britain.’ In this, the druids, and Merlin in his earliest literary excursion, foretold the return of Welsh heroes from the dead, not, in this instance, Arthur, but Cynan, legendary founder of Brittany, and Cadwalladr, a composite figure remembered as the last Welsh king of Britain, to lead a grand alliance of all the Celtic peoples and of the Vikings to drive the English back into the sea. The alliance proved more than a fantasy. In 937 its forces advanced into the heart of England, to be met and, after hard fighting, defeated by Athelstan and his younger half-brother Edmund on the field of Brunanburgh, one of the key battles of early British history.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the accession of Edmund to the throne in 939 following Athelstan’s death, and his recall of the Glastonbury-educated Dunstan to be his chief advisor, marked the beginning of a more positive phase in the relations of England with the Celtic peoples of the highland zone. Nor was the History of the Britons as a text as hostile to the English as the Armes Prydein, asserting as it did a Welsh role (contrary to Bede’s account) in their conversion. While the cloudy, quasi-pagan, vaticination of Armes Prydein advocated alliance with heathen raiders and slavers against the Christian English king, the Arthur of the History of the Britons offered an alternative model – one of unity of the petty-kings of Britain under a Christian emperor and the banner of the Virgin Mary (Glastonbury’s especial protectorice, we might note) against the heathen hordes.

The History of the Britons, however, did not just contain the first sketch of the Arthurian legend. It contained the first surviving draft of the Brutus story, a British version of the Roman Aeneid of Virgil, later also to be utilised by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his epic British history, in which Brutus, or Britto, a grandson of Aeneas, founder of Rome, comes to Britain ‘in the Third Age of the World,’ to found a nation. This legend, at whatever point before 829 it had first been created, was designed to give the British a pedigree equal to that of imperial Rome. This story is elaborated in the text represented by the Vatican Recension.

The first half of the 10th century did not merely see the consolidation of the kingdom of England and the reassertion of that imperium within Britain which, according to Bede, had existed since the earliest days of the Anglo-Saxon invasions, and which had passed to the house of Wessex before the beginning of the Viking age. On the continent, the new Saxon dynasty of Henry the Fowler and his son Otto the Great was busy welding the eastern Frankish lands of the former Carolingian empire into the medieval Reich, a German kingdom which also controlled much of Italy and a large tract of Slavonic march to the east. Otto did not formally assume the imperial title until 962, but it had been used by various pretenders, and an imperial restoration had long been in the air. The new ‘British History’ of the Vatican Recension could be used to show that the West-Saxon ruler of Britain – Bretwalda, we learn elsewhere, was the Anglo-Saxon term – was the equal of any Byzantine Autokrator or German Kaiser. The West-Saxon kings were anticipating the Normans and Angevins in appropriating native British myth to cloak their non-insular origin. The self-image of the West-Saxon kings in the 10th century was increasingly imperial, particularly in the ‘diplomatic’ of the charters reflecting the influence of Glastonbury’s writing office, and there is little doubt that for the designedly imperial-style second coronation of Edgar, staged by Dunstan in 973, Bath was chosen over Winchester, or Glastonbury itself, because its surviving Roman ruins (as described in an Anglo-Saxon poem) offered an appropriately dramatic backdrop. A consideration may also have been that it was already identified in Welsh tradition, as Caer Faddon, with the site of the Arthurian victory over the heathen at Badon Hill. Following the Bath ceremony, Edgar was rowed down the Avon to the Severn Sea and around Wales to Chester (supposed site of another Arthurian victory) where, in a second ceremony, the kings of the British Isles took the oars of his longship, he himself manning the tiller, and rowed him up and down the river Dee, pledging allegiance as his ‘fellow-helpers by land and sea’ – the phraseology of Anglo-Saxon military service.

John Dee

These flights of high politics from before 1066 may seem remote, yet their echoes are still to be heard wherever in the wide world the English tongue is spoken, or the forces of Britain or her former colonies deployed. When a native dynasty once more sat on the throne and the Tudor polymath John Dee set down the first blueprint for a trans-oceanic British Empire – he is the first to coin the phrase – he  invoked the spirit of Arthur, of Dunstanian Glastonbury, and above all of Edgar, to whom he devoted page after page. In his General and Rare Memorials Pertaining to the Perfect Art of Navigation of 1577 he wrote :

This Peaceable king Edgar, had in his mind (about 600 years past) the Representation of a great part of the same Idea, which (from above only, and by no man’s advice,) hath graciously streamed down into my Imagination : being (as it becometh me, a Subject) Careful for the Godly Prosperity of this British Empire, under our most Peaceable Queen Elizabeth. … This Peaceable King Edgar, was one of the perfect Imperial Monarchs of this British Empire : and therefore, thus, his Fame remainneth (for ever) Recorded :

There follows on the printed page a Latin eulogy for Edgar marked out with a decorative border in such a manner as to suggest that it may be meant to represent an inscription on a plaque or panel in Glastonbury’s Tudor Edgar Chapel, completed shortly before the Dissolution, where his relics had been housed. It has not so far proved possible to substantiate a suggestion that this was also recorded by the antiquary  John Leland – it does not appear in the printed editions of his Itinerary – but Dee himself was reputed in the 17th century to have carried out investigations in the ruins of Glastonbury. If this is true he must have done so in the 1570’s, before the continuous record of his surviving diaries. He certainly had a nation-wide body of correspondents who sent him notes and drawings of antiquarian curiosities, and the Edgar epitaph – if that is what it is – may originate with one of these. The shield bears the arms of Glastonbury Abbey (with the Virgin and Child of the upper left-hand quarter omitted, perhaps for reasons of space). The Latin reads in English (approximately):

Of the English World King/Emperor (Basileus), Flower and Decoration Edgar, not less memorable to the English than Cyrus to the Persians : Romulus to the Romans : Alexander to the Macedonians : Arsaces to the Persians : * Carolus [Charlemagne] to the Franks : Years of life 37, he reigned, with his brother [Edwy] and after [alone], died 21st of the Ides of July, & at GLASCON [recte Glaston] is entombed.

Edgar ‘Epitaph’

Dee followed this with his well-known valediction:

O Glastonbury, Glastonbury : the Treasury of the Carcasses of so famous, and so many rare persons … How lamentable is thy case now? How hath Hypocrisy and Pride, wrought thy Desolation? … yet that Apostle-like Joseph, that Triumphant British Arthur, and now, this Peaceable and Provident Saxon, King Edgar, do force me with a certain sorrowful Reverence, here, to celebrate thy Memory.’[26]

Subdeacon Paul Ashdown[27]

[1] This paper was originally delivered to The Glastonbury Antiquarian Society, on 30 January, 2009, with the omission noted in the text.


[2] For Dunstan see W. Stubbs, ed., Memorials of St. Dunstan, Rolls Series, 63, London, 1874 (rep. Kraus, 1965), which is still the only edition of the First and subsequent Lives, and whose notes are still invaluable.

[3] On the Well, see John Mellor, 1873, The Ancient History of Glastonbury and Glastonbury Abbey, p. 14; G. W. Wright, 1887, The Chalice Well or Blood Spring and its Traditions, in Proceedings of the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society for the Year 1886, pp. 20-36; Margaret Drower, 1984, Flinders Petrie, A Life in Archaeology, Gollancz, London, p. 401; Paul Ashdown, How Old is Chalice Well? in The Glastonbury Review, vol. xii, no 112, July 2005, pp. 152-7 (copy in Glastonbury Antiquarian Society library).

[4] John Cowper Powys, 1933, A Glastonbury Romance, p. 285.

[5] Caradoc of Llancarfon in Hugh Williams, ed. & trans., 1899, Two Lives of Gildas, Cymmrodorion Record Series, (rep. 1990, Llanerch, Felinfach), pp. 98-99.

[6] For William’s authentic writings on Glastonbury, see now R. Mynors, R. Thomson, & M. Winterbottom, 1998, William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum, The History of the English Kings, (ed. & trans., 2 vols.), Oxford Medieval Texts, Oxford.

[7] For an authoritative Welsh text and trans. of the Spoils of Annwfn (Welsh Preiddeu Annwfn) see Marged Haycock, ‘Preiddeu Annwn’ and the Figure of Taliesin, Studia Celtica 18/19, 1983/4, pp. 52-78. For Caer Sidi see p. 65, note 3, citing P. Simms Williams, & refs.

[8] Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. W. Comfort, Dent, Everyman’s Library, London 1914 et sec. Erec, at (1976) p. 26; Lancelot (pp. 270-359), passim, esp. at pp. 278-9.

[9] Mathew Blows, Studies in the Pre-Conquest History of Glastonbury Abbey, unpublished PhD thesis, 1991; Heather Edwards, 1988, Charters of the Early West Saxon Kingdom, BAR British Series 198.

[10] Dorothy Whitelock, ed., 1955, English Historical Documents, Vol. I c.500-1042: Britwold’s letter, pp. 794-5; Willibald’s Life of St Boniface, p. 778; Bede’s letter to Egbert, pp. 799 ff.

[11] Stubbs op cit., p. 10-11; James Carley, An Early Irish Fragment of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae, in The Arch. and Hist. of Glastonbury Abbey, ed. Lesley Abrams & James Carley, Boydell, Woodbridge, 1991, pp. 135-161; Radford, 1984; Brian O Cuiv, St Gregory and St Dunstan in a Middle-Irish Poem on the Origins of Liturgical Chant, in St Dunstan: His Life Times and Cult, ed. Ramsay etc., Woodbridge 1992, pp. 273-297; Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St Indract at Glastonbury, in Ireland in Medieval Europe, ed. Whitelock, McKitterick and Dumville, Cambridge, 1982; Finberg, H., St Patrick at Glastonbury, in West Country Historical Studies, Newton Abbot, 1969; Lesley Abrams, St Patrick and Glastonbury Abbey: nihil ex nihilo fit?, in David Dumville, ed., Saint Patrick, Boydell, Woodbridge, 1993, which volume contains much of the relevant material.

[12] Sanas Chormaic, Cormac’s Glossary, trans. & notes by John O’Donovan, ed. etc. by Whitly Stokes, Calcutta, 1868, pp. 111-13.

[13] John Scott, 1981, ‘The Early History of Glastonbury’ (a text and translation of   De Antiquitate), Boydell, Woodbridge, pp. 54-59. It may not be accidental that both the Tor and Croagh Patrick also resemble in shape Mount Tabor, traditionally (from the 4th century) the site of Christ’s Transfiguration (Mark 9, 2-13 etc.), overlooking the plain of Megiddo, the Armagedon of the last battle in the Book of Revelation.

[14] In the Liber Angeli, Armagh claimed ‘by a secret dispensation (a relic of) the most holy blood of Jesus Christ .. in a sacred linen cloth, together with relics of the saints in the south church, where rest along with Patrick the bodies of holy pilgrims who came from afar, and other just men from overseas.’ (Trans. Kathleen Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society, London, 1966, p. 278.)  Ludwig Bieler (The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh, Dublin, 1979, pp. 187-9) instead translates the last part ‘.. where there rest the bodies of holy men from abroad who had come with Patrick from across the sea, and other just men!’

This must be among the earliest references to a cult of the Holy Blood in Europe, and one missed by Nicholas Vincent (The Holy Blood, Cambridge, 2001). It is clear that Patrick, regarded by the 12th century as the founder of Glastonbury as a monastic institution, inspired aspects of the later legend of Joseph of Arimathea (with whom he shared 17th March as a saint’s day) and this may be another instance. According to the 10th-century Tripartate Life, Patrick owned a ‘Staff of Jesus,’ given by hermits on a mysterious island in the Mediterranean, near Mount Hermon. This was publicly burnt in Dublin at the Reformation. A Christmas-flowering thorn dedicated to Patrick once stood in France, the Espine de S. Patrice, at S. Patrice, near Tours.

See also, more generally, Paul Ashdown, Glastonbury and the Shroud of Christ, in The Downside Review 424, July 2003, pp. 171-196.

[15] In the occasional magazine, Time Team 98, The Site Reports, ‘Downpatrick,’ (Tim Taylor, Channel 4 Television, London, 1998, p. 50) is reference to ‘a passage in the 9th-century Wurzburg Codex: ‘Mocuoroc maccumin semon, who the Romans called the teacher of the whole world … committed to writing this knowledge on the island which is called Crannach Duinlethglaisse [Downpatrick].’ This implies that crannach (‘crannog’) in Old Irish could legitimately be used of any lake- or marsh-island, artificial or natural, used as a place of security, reflecting function rather than construction or size, and so both the Glastonbury Lake Village and the Mount at Beckery could be legitimately so called in Irish terms. On p. 51 of the above publication is a colour reconstruction of the early monastery at Down on its ‘island.’

[16] William of Malmesbury (who must often have travelled through Fosse Lane en route between Malmesbury and Glastonbury) in his lost Life of Patrick seemingly knew some local traditions about Patrick’s birthplace somewhere in England.

[17] Bishop R. P. C. Hanson, Saint Patrick: His Origins and Career Oxford, 1968, p. 158, n.1; T. O’Rahilly, The Two Patricks, Dublin 1942. O’Rahilly’s argument, which seeks to connect Banavem Taburniae with the River Brue, is not, in detail, sustainable.

[18] James Carney, The Problem of St Patrick, Dublin, 1961, pp. 121-2. He adds in a footnote ‘when it is stated that Senex Patricius [Old Patrick, see below] is buried in Glastonbury the reference is to [the better-known] St. Patrick. The Irish pilgrimages to Glastonbury in the middle ages are not unimpressive as evidence.’

[19] The MSS are: Arras, Bibliotheque municipale, MS 1029 (812); London, British Library MS Cotton Cleopatra B.xiii; Sankt Gallen, Stadtbibliothek MS 337. The matter is discussed in detail in Dumville, 1993, op. cit., esp. pp. 59-64.

[20] The martyrology is found in Cambridge, Corpus Chriisti College MS 57. See Dumville, 1993, op. cit., pp. 243-4; 29.

[21] Paul Ashdown, Glastonbury’s Christian Origins: A Reassessment, in The Glastonbury Bulletin, vol. viii, 90, June 1995, pp. 17-20; Villa report: David Derbyshire, The Daily Telegraph, 20 October, 2003, p. 8, with colour reconstructions by Alan Gilliland.

[22] Since David Dumville’s 1977 paper, Sub-Roman Britain: History and Legend (in History 62, pp. 173-92), a timely corrective to the wilder fantasies of 1960’s archaeologists, the idea of an historical basis for Arthur has fallen from academic favour. The scholarly pendulum now seems to have swung in the opposite direction. Thomas Green, in Concepts of Arthur, Stroud, 2007, seems to favour a return to a no less fanciful 19th-century-style comparative mythology. One is reminded of Andrew Lang’s famous satire in which he triumphantly proved Napoleon to be a solar myth.

[23] David Dumville, 1993, op. cit.,  p. 226. Dumville’s edition of the Vatican Recension, The Historia Brittonum Vol. 3, The ‘Vatican Recension,’ Brewer, Cambridge, 1985, contains an extensive introduction but, sadly, no translation. A copy may conveniently be found in the Somerset Studies Library, Taunton.

[24] See, eg., C. A. Ralegh Radford, ‘Glastonbury Abbey,’ in G. Ashe, editor, The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, London 1968, pp. 119-138, at pp. 132-138, & illus. 95; Bath disc: Barry Cunliffe, The City of Bath, Sutton, Stroud, 1986, p. 55 & plate 40.

[25] On the Giso Cross, See Warwick Rodwell, The Anglo-Saxon and Norman Churches at Wells, in L. S. Colchester, ed., Wells Cathedral, A History, Shepton Mallet, 1982, pp. 1-22, at pp. 21-23, & plates 10, 11; Wells Cathedral, Excavations and Discoveries, 3rd. ed. rev., 1987, p. 17 & plates 13, 15; Lead Plaques from the tombs of the Saxon Bishops of Wells, in The Antiquaries Journal (Oxford), vol. 59, 1979, pp. 407-10, with ‘A Note on the Cross’ by C. A. R. Radford, pp. 409-10.

[26] Op. cit. p. 56.

[27] Copyright retained by Paul Ashdown, M.A. (Cantab)

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