Glastonbury, a small town in Somerset, is surrounded by a grouping of hills. The tallest of these hills is known as the Tor, which happens to have an old stone tower on the very top which was once a church dedicated to the archangel Michael.
The ancient name for the Tor was Ynys Witrin, which means ‘the Island of Glass.’ But this ‘island’ is more widely known from Celtic lore as Avalon, the Apple-place and the isle of enchantment. In Celtic legends, Avalon was the Otherworld home of the underworld god, Afallach. Both the names Avalon and Afallach refer to apples, apples that once grew in Glastonbury. Myths of King Arthur are set here.
According to legend, Saint Joseph of Arimathea travelled to the spot after Christ was crucified. He is said to have stuck his wooden staff – which had belonged to Jesus – into the ground on Wearyall Hill before he went to sleep. When he awoke it had sprouted into a thorn tree, which became a natural shrine for Christians across Europe. Joseph is said to have built the first Christian church in England. The ancient church was constructed, in 63.
Centuries later, after the break from the Roman Empire, a group of Celtic monks took up quarters beside Glastonbury’s small wattle church. Under the Celtic monks, the site of the ancient church became known as “the holiest Earth of England” and was recognized as the place where Christian faith was first planted in England. The monastery grew into an abbey of the Benedictine Order in 673.
St. Dunstan, a monk-bishop, was Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey and then Archbishop of Canterbury from 960-988. He used his monetary inheritance, royal influence, and considerable gifts to foster and encourage a monastic revival in England and reform the English church.
The end of Glastonbury Abbey came in 1539 when King Henry VIII had the abbey burned, took the land for himself, and had the abbot hanged. The king also had the body of the abbot dismembered and put on exhibition around the country.
Glastonbury is now the mecca for psychics, faith healers, mystics, druids, etc. The Golden Goddesses, a congregation of priestesses who worship mother earth, sponsor an annual Goddess Conference. A former CoE church hall is now used as the Glastonbury Goddess Temple. The largest green field open-air rock festival in the world is held annually in Glastonbury. Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels are aligned on the Ley Line which runs through Glastonbury Abbey ruins and over Chalice Hill, said by some to be the secret location of the Holy Grail.
In December 2010, the Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury was chopped down in an act of vandalism, viewed by some as a deliberately anti-Christian act. The annual Glastonbury Christian pilgrimage was canceled for the first time since 1924.
I don’t claim to know what happens in the spiritual realm, but one wonders if there isn’t an ongoing tug of war over this land. I did some searching for Christian prayers for this city, but found none.–JW
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in Glastonbury as it is in heaven. Amen.