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Glastonbury — Somerset, England

Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset situated between the Mendip and Polden Hills on the 'Isle of Avalon' which is the geographical designation for this land of mystical legend and antiquity.

GlastonburyMany thousands of years prior to the Celtic Druids, prehistoric people settled the region; over time they formed the land to the astrological patterns of the zodiac. These mystical people left an indelible mark upon the land and on those who later settled here. This early mysticism was carried forward into later legends that developed with the passage of time. It is especially noteworthy to mention the Celtic Druids who settled here circa 500 BC, bringing their own magical beliefs; and almost certainly blending them with the existing prehistoric legends, which in turn laid the basis for myths that followed, including those associated with King Arthur.

Glastonbury Tor is directly related to prehistory as part of the land included in the astrological formations; however, today it is primarily known for the tower of St. Michael's Church on the summit of the Tor, the only segment of the church that remains standing. The Tor, whose low lying marshland was frequently flooded, may have given rise to the name Glastonbury (known in the past to have been spelled as Glassonbury), derived from Ynys-witrin, or Isle of Glass.

Glastonbury is considered to be the first Christian town in all of Britain. Historians have recorded a long history of religious activity in this small principality, including the legend of Joseph of Arimathea founding the Church of Wattles, whose ruins were rebuilt by Christian missionaries circa 166 AD. By the fourth century, after St. Patrick came to Glastonbury, the monastic life was established and continued during a period of time when the remainder of England reverted to paganism; with legends of King Arthur making many visits to Glastonbury, the supposition being that he may have had a fortress in the region. In 704 AD the Charter of King Ine of Wessex granted Wattle Church rights that had previously existed, at which time the eastern church was erected. From this time on, the wealth of the monastery grew to huge proportions, and at the time of the Domesday survey Glastonbury monastery had a Lord Abbot whose lordship could not even be touched by the King's Writ.

In 1184 the Church of the Wattle and much of the monastery was destroyed by fire, and rebuilding was begun by Henry II at his own expense, until his death a few years later; dedication of the new church was not until circa 1322. The additions to the monastery made through the generations by the Abbots, made it larger and grander than any monastery in the country; but all changed during the reign of Henry VIII when the King usurped the pope by naming himself supreme head of the Church of England. Glastonbury which was the first monastery in the country was the last to fall; with the immense wealth of the monastery confiscated by the King, the abbey was left in ruins; the ruins still stand today.

There are two churches that remain standing from the 15th century; St. Benedict's Church built in the perpendicular style and the Church of St John the Baptist built in the cruciform plan. Both church buildings are Grade I listed buildings; and almost all of the listed buildings in Glastonbury are related in some manner to the Abbey, as is the Sommerset Rural Life Museum. However, The Tribunal, another 15th century building was originally a medieval merchant's house which now serves as a museum and houses the tourist information centre.

Until the time of Henry VIII, Glastonbury life revolved around the monastery. In 1607 the Somerset coast was devastated by a tsunami that flooded the moors up to Glastonbury. There were perhaps 1,500 residents by 1643 when both sides in the English Civil War occupied the town, followed by the domination of the town's churches by the Puritans; followed by the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, all of which left the town in extreme poverty. By 1705 the town corporation was created, followed by drainage of the Meare Pool, a large lake north of Meare. Glastonbury struggled to survive, gaining a brief period of notoriety as a healing spa. There was further drainage of the moors during the period 1770-1840; with another flood surrounding the town during this time. It was not until the 18th century, after improvements were made, and with the advent of industrialization that Glastonbury began to attract more families; with larger increases in population taking place during the 20th century.

The founding of the Glastonbury Festival by Rutland Boughton in 1914, as well as archaeological excavations, followed by Katherine Maltwood's publication of her visionary 'discovery' of the Glastonbury Zodiac, the founding of Glastonbury Pilgrimage and the founding of the Chalice Well and Gardens Trust all helped the popularization of Glastonbury as a tourist attraction. The New Age movement in Glastonbury in the late 20th century gave rise to a new wave of residents and tourism.

At this point in time, Glastonbury is an exceedingly busy tourist community that offers something for everyone, whether for religious reasons, for historical research, followers of New Age activities, or someone interested in legend, Druids, astrology, music or archaeology. Glastonbury is a virtual repository of what one is seeking.

Where is Glastonbury?

Glastonbury is located in Somerset where the A39 and A361 merge. The nearest populated areas include Shepton Mallet to the east and Wells to the north.

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