Glastonbury & Salisbury  


The Dragonfly Bed & Breakfast

The B&B we stayed in was in a row of townhouses. Not a street you'd expect a hotel in. But then a B&B is not a hotel. It's more like renting a room in someone's house. Gwydir Castle was like that. The couple who own it, live there and are the ones to make breakfast. Ken was our host at the Dragonfly. (Well and the cat with really startlingly green eyes.) Our room was in shades of green and was really lovely and peaceful. Everything smelled like a home instead of a hotel. (You know that cross between vinegar and bleach that hotel sheets always smell like.)

Ken is a holdover from the 60s, of which there are many in Glastonbury. One sees marijuana posters, vegetarian restaurants, hippies, wican stores, and back packers ALL over Glastonbury. He very obligingly drew us maps of how to get to places and served us a good breakfast.

Alarmingly, he didn't seem to be able to operate his own toaster and when asked, admitted that toasters are a mystery. Maggie had trouble with the toaster but didn't burn anything. I on the other hand got a piece in there and then couldn't get it to turn off, so it just kind of charred the toast. (While it was charring, Ken amiably talked about his lack of knowledge about toasters.) Perhaps it would just be better if I admit to myself that toast in Britain seems to be a bad idea. Well, if it involves touching the toaster for my very own self.


William of Malmesbury wrote in the early 1100s that "The church at Glastonbury is the oldest of all those that I know of in England... In it are preserved the bodily remains of many saints, ... and there is no part of the church that is without the ashes of the blessed."   (Well, actually, he wrote something to that effect, since he actually wrote in Latin. Any of you who want the quote in the original Latin, are welcome to Google for it yourself.)

The reason it was on my list is because it's on the Isle of Avalon (or the Isle of Glastonbury) where King Arthur and Guenevere are buried. The English, and before them, the Romans, have done a lot of work to reclaim the flooded marsh lands that surrounded Glastonbury, so it's no longer an island. However, most of the medieval places here were located on high ground, so they are still visible.

The Tor

On the edge of town stands this amazingly steep hill with the remains of the Church of St. Michael. All that's left is the bell tower, which everyone calls (together with the hill), The Tor. The remains are from the 1500s, but that church replaced one that was destroyed in the 12th century in an earthquake.

The whole way up, Ox wailed about how this couldn't have been an island and why would anyone stick a church up there. (Hmm. Perhaps you'd better have a peep at the hill before you form an opinion. Just click over and scroll a bit.)

Maggie had wanted to be at the Tor for sunset, and we were, but the clouds cheated us of a sunset. We left while it was still light enough to see our way down and let Ox navigate the one lane road that we'd driven on to get there. (Did you notice the fab picture of Maggie with her hair blowing at the top of the Tor?)

Not your usual tourists at the Tor. Back packers, dogs playing, local people taking a walk. All of us huddling near the tower in the biting cold wind and looking out at the amazing view and trying not to step in cow patties. All the way down we speculated on how the cows get up that steep slope to leave cow patties on the trail. They all looked like placid Holsteins, but they must bound like gazelles when people aren't looking.

Abbey Ruins

This morning we were off for Glastonbury Abbey. There's only a bit of the Abbey left standing. During the dissolution of the monasteries, it was closed and then bit by bit the stone was hauled away to build other things. They hung the last abbot of Glastonbury from the walls of the Tor. (One assumes because it can be seen for miles around.) So, quite a sad story.

Why was there an Abbey there?

So the legend goes... Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail to England after Christ's death. When he arrived at Wearyall Hill near Glastonbury he stobbed his walking staff into the ground and the dead wood took root and grew into a tree. Since the staff was from the same thorn tree that the crown of thorns was from, the tree grew into a thorn tree which blooms with flowers at Christmas and at Easter.

Joseph founded a church and abbey at Glastonbury with his traveling companions.   They built a place of worship of wattle and daub. This was called the "Old Church", which was replaced after a fire in 1186 by a Chapel to Mary. The Abbey was a conglomerate of buildings from the 12th through the 16th centuries.

King Arthur

King Arthur of course, was brought by three women to Avalon in the old legends. His grave has always been said to be at Glastonbury and a tomb with his name was south of the Lady Chapel (which would have been south of the Old Church.) In 1190, Henry II had the grave dug up.

Giraldus Cambrensis wrote of the event in 1216, "In our own lifetime, when Henry II was reigning in England, strenuous efforts were made in Glastonbury Abbey to locate what must have once been the splendid tomb of Arthur. It was the King himself who put them on to this, and Abbot Henry, who was later elected Bishop of Worcester, gave them every encouragement.

With immense difficulty, Arthur's body was eventually dug up in the churchyard dedicated by Saint Dunstan. It lay between two tall pyramids with inscriptions on them, which pyramids had been erected many years before in memory of Arthur. The body was reduced to dust, but it was lifted up into the fresh air from the depths of the grave and carried with the bones to a more seemly place of burial. In the same grave there was found a tress of woman's hair, blond and lovely to look at, plaited and   coiled with consummate skill, and belonging, no doubt, to Arthur's wife, who was buried there with her husband." Well, once again, Cambrensis wrote something like that, because these words are a translation of the Latin. A different account of the event talked about the man's bones being particularly large.

They reburied the two bodies in the 12th century stone church a few feet in front of the high altar. Well, of course, the abbey church is now gone, so I've taken photos of the place where he was originally buried and the place where he was re-interred. While I was in the square of the old choir (just a bit from the grave) I sang through Dona Nobis. Which given the unrest in England at the moment, and standing in a ruined abbey, having just visited where they hung the last abbot, seemed the appropriate thing to do.

Rock Concert?

There were men all over today putting up tents and getting ready for the annual Pilgrimage to Glastonbury weekend. St. John's was sponsoring a youth Christian concert at the Abbey ruins this evening. They are expecting 6,000 people to come for the pilgrimage. The three of us say, "good luck getting parking!"

The Abbot's Kitchen

When they tore down the church, they left the Abbot's kitchen. There was a lady in Garb in there with herbs and samples of bread and cooking equipment. Really lovely. She gave me a tour of how the kitchen worked.

It's a funny shaped domed building with a chimney at the top, four chimney holes in the corners and big double wide doors on each side to ventilate it properly.   It was really one of my favorite parts of the day. For those who are uninterested in medieval kitchens, you should just skip all the commentary under the photos.  

Picnic at the Chalice Well

Well, we picked up some pasties and sandwiches at the "Burned the Bread Bakery". (Truly, I don't make these things up. Go look at the photos.) Then went over to the Chalice Well Garden. Very peaceful place. We ate in the shade of two giant Yew trees and looked out on the flowers and one of Glastonbury's thorn trees.  

Yew trees look vaguely like Cedars, but the bark has no smell and the leaves are more like very short pudgy needles.

I laid about for a bit in the soft grass while Ox and Maggie walked around. Then took myself off to the gift shop with the conviction that a site that claims to have a sacred well, will doubtless sell nice cups to put it in. I bought a hand turned stoneware chalice and went over to the Lion's head spigot to try the water. Both Maggie and I thought it would be a shame to try the water out of plastic bottle. Ox and Maggie walked up about that moment and so we all had a sip out of my cup. A very Mooneschadowe moment.

The water tastes like minerals and iron, but was very cold and on this hot summer day was good enough to drink a cup of.

Thorn Tree

A side note, a conservative Protestant cut the original ancient Sacred Thorn tree down around 1700. However, seedlings from the tree had been given to abbeys and churches all over, so the one they have at the Abbey now is a descendent of the original tree.

The Abbey Barn

We also got to see the Abbey barn. Since it was useful, and not next to the Abbey, it survived intact. As a matter of fact, it's still a perfectly good threshing barn, if rather a bit splendid for such things. Maggie sighed and said that she would love to drag all the Victorian farm equipment out, clean it up and have a feast in it. It really is just wonderful. It had big doors on either end so that you could thresh the grain and the chaff would blow away. It also had windows shaped like arrow loops. (Which as well as being handy for archers is also the window design that lets in the most light when the walls are thick and there is no glass to keep the cold out.)

Salisbury Cathedral

We dashed off to Salisbury, navigating through roundabouts, poorly marked roads and maps we don't really quite understand. However, we arrived in good time to have a quick look around and then attend evensong.   The cathedral is much darker than the others. When you look at the pictures, notice that the columns are alternating white and dark gray. Really gives the church a different look.

Famous Tomb

So William Longespee is buried in the Cathedral. You're wondering, "Who the heck is that?" Well, for all you Roberta Gellis fans, he's the Earl of Salisbury, Geoffrey's father. (The little blonde with the limp who marries Joanna.)

He was a bastard son of Henry I, so that makes him a half brother to Richard the Lionhearted and John. He actually served as one of the negotiators for the Magna Carta, which limited the power of his baby brother King John. William was there when they laid the first foundation stones for Salisbury Cathedral, and was one of its supporters. He died in 1220 and was the first person to be buried in the completed Cathedral.

From all accounts he was a good man, and though many said he would have made a better king than John, I think he was simply too prudent a man to want to tangle with the Angevin family. (Remember Lion in Winter.)


The choir sang a piece by Thomas Tallis (you remember him? He's the organist for Queen Elizabeth's chapel. Catholic chap, but she just turned a blind eye.) As usual they had us sit in the mesiricord (the little wooden stalls that the choir sits in.) The sounds of their voices were distinct and easy to understand, but beyond the choir the empty cathedral echoed back their voices. Very beautiful and haunting. No organ music because it was Friday. They normally don't have the organ play on Fridays to keep the service more somber to remember Christ's sufferings on a Friday. But this Friday the Dean of the Cathedral said that she wanted the sacrifice of that bit of music to also be made for the victims of the London bombings. In the prayers for the day we remembered the dead, the dying, and the grieving.

The passage of scripture from the gospels was about the rich man who looked at all his wealth and thought, "I have so much stuff, that I need to pull down my old barn and build a newer larger one." And when he had finished he thought, "I am prepared for the future, I have all my wealth safely stored." And the angel of death came to him and said, "Fool, tonight your life is required of you."

We had just seen the Abbey's grand barn that has survived long after the abbot was hung and the church was torn down. And just after praying for the people who's lives ended suddenly with no warning. All the themes of this day just seem to keep swirling about me.

After the service an older lady next to me turned and asked if we were visitors. Then finding that we were from the States, she said sympathetically, "Oh, this is like the bombings in New York then for you. It probably brings it all back to you." And we told her yes, and the Oklahoma City bombing as well. She pointed out some things about the cathedral because she lives in Salisbury. She told us the cathedral was all of one style. And indeed, it is, it was built in less than 40 years, all at one time. She said that the dark and light stone was limestone. Then she pointed out a dark blue stained glass window behind the altar that I couldn't really make sense of. She said, "That's a new window of course. It's much brighter with the sun behind it. It's French glass from the 1970s."  

At the time I thought that she was saying something nice about it, but then thought later that perhaps she was indicating her disdain for its very modern-art looking glass, by describing it as "French."

Today's Photos