Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset where the foundations of the Earliest Christian settlers in Europe began.

25 May 2020

Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset was first founded by the THE SAXONS, WHO HAD BEEN CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY, CONQUERED THE ANCIENT COUNTY OF SOMERSET IN THE 7TH CENTURY. Their king was Ine of Wessex, widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the abbey. He was a local man who boosted the status and income of the abbey, and was reputed to have erected a stone church, the base of which forms the west end of the nave. 

Glasto-1-(1).jpgThis church was enlarged in the 10th century by the Abbot of Glastonbury,
St Dunstan, who in 960 became the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1066, the wealth of the abbey could not protect the Saxon monks from the disruption caused by the foreign invasion and subsequent conquest of England by the Normans.

Skilled Norman craftspeople contributed much to the abbey by adding magnificent buildings to the existing Saxon church. These were built to the east of the older church and away from the ancient cemetery. The Norman betterment of the abbey was extensive.

In 1086, when the Domesday Book was commissioned to provide records and a census of life in England, Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in the country.

The great Norman structures were consumed by fire in 1184 when many of the ancient treasures were destroyed. One story goes that in order to raise extra funds from pilgrims to rebuild the abbey, in 1191 the monks dug to find King Arthur and Queen Guinevere; and bones from two bodies were raised from a deep grave in the cemetery on the south side of the Lady Chapel.

These bones were reburied, much later, in 1278 within the Abbey Church, in a black marble tomb, in the presence of King Edward I. When the monastic buildings were destroyed in the fire of 1184, the medieval monks needed to find a new place to worship.   

There is evidence that the 12th-century nave was renovated and used for this purpose for almost 30 years, until some of the work was completed on the new church. The monks reconsecrated the Great Church and began services there on Christmas Day, 1213, most likely before it was entirely completed. In the 14th century, as the head of the second- wealthiest abbey in Britain (behind Westminster Abbey), the Abbot of Glastonbury lived in considerable splendour and wielded tremendous power stretching across the whole of the country. 

Glasto-2-(1).jpgThe main surviving example of this power and wealth is to be found in the Abbot’s Kitchen — part of the magnificent Abbot’s house begun by John de Breynton (1334–42). Privileged pilgrims might once have stayed in the abbey itself; excavations have disclosed a special apartment at the south end of the Abbot’s house, erected for a visit from the English King, Henry VII. In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, there were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541, there was none.

More than 10,000 monks and nuns had been dispersed and the buildings had been seized by the Crown to be sold off or leased to new lay occupiers. Glastonbury Abbey was one of the principal victims of this royal action during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a time of great social and religious upheaval.

For more on Somerset's incredible history and heritage go to our interactive E Book.

Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset where the foundations of the Earliest Christian settlers in Europe began.
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