The town of Glastonbury in the Southwest of England is probably the best-known sacred site in the U.K., for it is linked to Jesus, the Holy Grail, and King Arthur.
Tradition holds that Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus, came to Glastonbury in 37 A.D., bringing with him the chalice from the Last Supper, the same goblet he used to capture drops of Jesus’ blood on Calvary. Legend says Joseph stuck his walking stick into the ground where it later bloomed into a hawthorn tree. Following divine instruction, Joseph buried the Grail at the foot of what is now called Chalice Hill. He is also said to have built the first Christian church in Britain.
Whether or not these legends are based on historic facts or are merely myths, there is much in present-day Glastonbury to inspire spiritually-minded visitors.
High atop the hill called Glastonbury Tor stands St. Michael’s Tower, the remains of a 14thcentury church. The Tor itself may be one of the most ancient pilgrimage sites in the land. Traces of a labyrinth dug into the hillside have been dated to the Neolithic era. It is widely held that, 2,000 to 3,000 years before Christianity, followers of the Great Goddess would make the spiritual walk, following the intricate, winding path up the hill. Even today’s modern pilgrims come to absorb the terrestrial energy from Mother Earth and the celestial power from above.
In the heart of the town are the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Once among the most powerful and rich of medieval abbeys, it was closed by decree of King Henry VIII in 1539. It is believed that, just before closing, its greatest treasures were buried by monks in secret tunnels under Glastonbury Tor.
The ruins that can now be seen date from the 13th, 14thand 15thcenturies. A fire destroyed an earlier Abbey in 1184. In 1190, during re-building, two Dark Ages coffins were discovered, along with a metal cross bearing the Latin inscription “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” The male and female remains were re-buried, and the site of King Arthur’s Tomb is now a popular shrine in the center of the Abbey grounds.
Between the foot of Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Hill lies Chalice Well. It was here, legend says, Joseph hid the Grail, after which the natural spring water turned blood red. In reality, the water’s reddish tint is caused by a high content of iron. For centuries the water’s healing power has been widely proclaimed. In 1754 a Matthew Chancellor declared he had been miraculously cured after drinking water from Chalice Well. A Pilgrim’s Bath was created so visitors could immerse themselves, and numerous healings of various kinds were reported.
Adorning Chalice Well and its nearby garden is the vesica pisces. This pre-Christian symbol, formed by two overlapping circles, became the basis for the Christian fish emblem. The twin circles represent the yin and yang, the sacred blending of feminine and masculine energy, as well as the intersection of the conscious with the unconscious worlds.
The famous Glastonbury thorn tree may still be seen in the Abbey grounds, in front of St. Patrick’s Chapel. The tree was cut down during the Puritan Movement, when it was judged it as a superstition, but cuttings of the original tree were taken by monks, who carefully nurtured them. The current thorn tree grew from those cuttings.
With its tor, abbey, well and thorn tree, Glastonbury offers visitors a rich array of sacred sites that connect us with both history and legend. But there is one deeper connection with the past for which no visible relic remains. Some people believe Christ Himself visited Glastonbury when He was young. His uncle Joseph was a trader, who is believed to have come to Somerset to barter for tin. His nephew Jesus may have accompanied him on such a journey. It was this apocryphal holy visit that inspired William Blake in 1804 to write the poem that would later become the hymn “Jerusalem.”
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
A spiritual group tour of southwest England, featuring Glastonbury, Stonehenge and crop circles is now available from bodymindspiritjourneys.com.