Myths and Legends - The Isle of Avalon

11 May 2020

The name is Old Welsh for ‘Isle of Apples’, and such was its fertility legends arose that crops grew themselves without any human aid. If you find yourself on any neighbouring hilltop at dawn, on many days of the year you’ll be privileged to see the mystic island gradually arising out of the lowland mists, which surround it like a sea.

_IB76784-Edit-2-(1).jpgIt was already established as a holy place when, as legend tells us, Joseph of Arimathea brought the young Christ here on a trading mission 2000 years ago. Joseph is believed to have donated his own tomb for Christ to be buried after the Crucifixion in Jerusalem, and later returned to Glastonbury with the Holy Grail, a cup containing some of the dying Christ’s blood. He is said to have founded the first Christian church in England at Glastonbury.

That tiny church eventually became a rich and powerful Benedictine monastery, the power base of St Dunstan, abbot and later Archbishop of Canterbury from AD 960, to whom several local miracles are attributed, including saving the life of King Edmund in Cheddar Gorge and ending the life of the Witch of Wookey.

_IBP1146-Edit-(3).jpgIn 1191, when the monks urgently needed money to rebuild after a fire, the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were conveniently discovered buried under the church. The legendary King Arthur is closely associated with Avalon, and locations can be found for all the Arthurian events within Somerset, although other counties also lay claims. Cadbury Castle, at South Cadbury, is said to have been ancient Camelot, and it was to Avalon that the dying king was brought in a barge after his fatal last battle. The sword Excalibur may have arisen from the lake surrounding Avalon, and was returned there so that none should use it after its one heroic owner. The Ladies of the Lake were a religious community living on the island. The Arthurian legends make free use of much earlier beliefs that had grown up around the mystery of Avalon.

The Chalice Well and the Tor, with its dramatic and solitary ruined church tower, are also sites steeped in history. The last Abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, was hanged on the Tor in 1539, a victim of Henry VIII’s determination to seize the wealth of England’s monasteries.

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

Myths and Legends - The Isle of Avalon
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