Glastonbury is a quaint little town that has grabbed onto the legends and myths associated with the area and become a center of the old ways and the occult. It is very much like Salem, Mass. The words magic, myth, and crystal are seen in many shops.
Parking is offered in a lot adjacent to the entrance to Glastonbury Abbey on Magdalene Street. We drove a little farther and parked on Silver Street which has a walkway out to High St. a very short distance from the entrance.
You purchase your ticket at the Visitor Center. It was £6.90 for adults and £6 over 60 when we visited. For an additional £1, you can have an audio guide to take you through the ruins. There are sidewalks which make this handicap accessible but there are several areas that would not be available for a visit if you can’t walk or climb stairs.
The museum is filled with items found during archeological excavations on the site. These are the best of the items found, many others are stored away. The only digging that happens these days is when there is a need for repairs. The displays explain the history of the Abbey as well as the myths associated with it. You will learn a great deal about the daily lives of the Benedictine monks who lived here in Glastonbury.
The origins of the monastery are shrouded in mystery but there has been something on this site for over 1500 years and perhaps as long as almost 2000 years. The legend of Joseph of Arimathia says that this great uncle of Jesus came to Glastonbury in 63 A.D. and founded the first Christian community in England. What is known for sure is that when the Saxons conquered this area in the 600s, there was already an established Celtic church in the area.
The Saxon Monastery thrived under St Dunstan and other great abbots and the Normans continued the tradition of the Great Abbey at Glastonbury. The remnants of the great abbey that you will see today is from the 13th century. It was in its day, the longest abbey church in England. Even a church with the history of this one was no match for King Henry VIII and his dissolution. The abbot was killed and the monks disbanded. The stones were used to build homes and patch roads.
Even in its ruined state, it is hard not to be impressed and with a little imagination you can see what it must have looked like in its heyday. The beauty and the sheer size are impressive. This is a truly magnificent ruin.
What brings many people here, however, is the legend of Arthur. In the twelfth-century, a Celtic grave was found and nearby a cross that said that this was the grave of Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. An elaborate black marble tomb was created and King Edward I and his wife Eleanor came here for the dedication. The tomb did not survive the dissolution but the site of the tomb is marked in the ruins.
Is this really the grave of Arthur? Skeptics will say that the timing of the find was propitious.
The Abbey had just sustained a major fire and was in dire need of funds. The finding of the remains brought much wealth and prestige to the abbey. Just good luck? Who can say for sure?
Another thing that you will want to look for is the Glastonbury thorn which is a bush that is supposed to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathia. This is not the original tree but rather a cutting from the original.
Allow several hours to visit here depending on your interest. The audio tour takes 40 minutes. If you would like to do a brass rubbing, some brasses are available at the visitor center for £1. Of course, there is a really wonderful gift shop that sells many items that are associated with the Abbey but also a wide variety of other items that make great take home gifts. We did some serious shopping here.
In the warm weather, there is an outdoor café. We visited in January and we had to cross the street and go to a tea room to grab a snack.
I highly recommend a visit to Glastonbury Abbey for anyone with a love of history, historic ruins and of course, the legend of King Arthur.