Sunday, 6 May 2018

A Message in the Stones

The Lost Tomb of King Arthur at Glastonbury Part II

“The tombe of Arthur in shining blacke stone was in front of ye altare. Ye can see hys size even now, an ye wis, in ye claye, and certain fragmentes that yet are for hym to seeke. Blacke and scarlet and golde was ye choire, save where they didde paint ye leaves in greene, and somme tyme browne where ye clausteres were.......The churche he was soe grete there was room enow in ye aisles and soe across ye altare in front of hym by Arthur's tombe.” 

The Company of Avalon
In 1908 when the Bath and Wells Diocesan Trust acquired the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey they appointed Frederick Bligh Bond as director of excavations. At the time Bond was an architect practising in Bristol and an acknowledged authority on church architecture having overseen the restoration of a number of churches; at the time Bond must have appeared to be the ideal appointment to restore the overgrown ruins of the Abbey.

But unknown to the Church authorities at the time Bond had been a member of the Society for Psychical Research since 1902. He was also a member of the Theosophical Society and a Freemason. He used knowledge he had gleaned from these societies to unearth the ruins of the Abbey with remarkable success without the need to dig lengthy exploration trenches, unearthing chapels that showed no evidence above ground with remarkable accuracy.

Today Bond is remembered mainly for his occult practices in communications with the monks of Glaston; one of the first documented examples of psychic archaeology but a method clouded with controversy. Bond claimed to have commenced communications with the abbey monks in 1907, before he had been appointed by the Church of England.

In 1918 Bond's book 'The Gate of Remembrance' was published which revealed his excavations had been guided by psychic communications with the dead monks of the Abbey, which he termed the 'Company of Avalon'. Bond had been holding automatic writing sessions with Captain John Bartlett, aka John Alleyne, as a medium.

Bond asserts that the monks had instructed him where to dig in response to questions he asked. However, sceptics argue that Bond possessed sufficient knowledge of church architecture to have calculated the layout of the Abbey with reasonable accuracy. Perhaps.

But Bond was an Arthurian and soon after his appointment he searched for evidence of the King's black marble tomb in front of the high altar. Among Bond's earliest excavations at the Abbey, from 1908–9, a search was carried out at the east end of the Great Church. Here he found many fragments of black marble-like stone found in the  vicinity of the high altar. One small fragment displayed part of arm in chain-mail & was suggested as being a relic from the tomb of Arthur. The antiquarian John Leland visited Glastonbury Abbey in the 1530's, just a few years before the Dissolution, but never mentioned any effigies in his description of King Arthur's tomb – but the monks of Glaston had. Today this artefact is exhibited in the Abbey museum among the display featuring the 12th century exhumation of King Arthur's grave.

Later Bond would turn his attention to the site of Arthur's grave south of the Lady Chapel but was dismissed by the Church of England before he could start excavations. Later Courtney Ralegh Radford, who visited Bond's excavations at Glastonbury as a child, would pick up the baton; there is evidence that Radford was influenced by Bond's earlier work at the Abbey.

Radford later referred to Bond as good an archaeologist, as good as any of his day. Bond had written up his excavation reports and published them in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological Society. His drawings were few but of exceptional quality, providing highly detailed records of stone constructions found in trenches. However, from around fifty sittings with the monks that he recorded only about half of these got in to the book The Gate of Remembrance; one gets the feeling that there must have been a lot of information from the 'Company of Avalon' that he did not pass on to his general readership.

The Message
Bond had been meticulous in his measurements of the abbey buildings, clearly the dimensions were critical. Bond claimed the Glastonbury medieval church builders had used ‘Gematria’, an ancient science using embedded mathematical formulae contained in Biblical texts. This was a continuation of the original layout of the site facilitating esoteric knowledge, the mason's code, used in the construction of the Old Church. Today it is recognised that ancient sites such as the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge show evidence of the use of Gematria in their design, but Bond, with his theories of sacred geometry and psychic archaeology, was a hundred years too early to be acceptable, if ever, to the Church. It seemed their relationship was destined to come to an inevitable conclusion.

Bond had presented this information at lecture on the measures of the Lady Chapel in 1916, which he must have realised would disturb the Dean of Wells, Armitage Robinson, listening in the audience and not be well received by the Church. It is not certain when Bond first learnt of Gematria; it may have been the monks of Glastonbury who introduced him to the subject, yet a year before the publication of The Gate of Remembrance, Bond and Thomas Simcox Lea completed a new book entitled 'Gematria: A preliminary investigation of the cabala contained in the Coptic Gnostic books and of a similar gematriain the Greek text of the New Testament'.

A sitting in August 1917 the Company of Avalon make clear reference to the subject:

“That which the brethren of old handed down to us, we followed, ever building on their plann. As we have said, our Abbey was a message in ye stones. In ye foundations and ye distances be a mystery—the mystery of our Faith, which ye have forgotten and we also in ye latter days. 

“All ye measures were marked plaine on ye slabbes in Mary's Chappel, and ye have destroyed them. So it was recorded, as they who builded and they who came after knew aforehand where they should build....... In ye floor of ye Mary Chappel was ye Zodiac, that all might see and understand the mystery...... Braineton, he didde much, for he was Geomancer to ye Abbey of old tyme.”

The 74ft grid

Bond was convinced that Glastonbury Abbey had been laid out to a geometric pattern of 74ft squares (37 x 2) and argued that there had been no divergence from the symmetry of these squares over the centuries right up to the time of the last Abbot (Whiting), as the last construction, the Edgar Chapel, conforms to this pattern.

Bond observed that the outer measurement of the total length of the Great Church from St. Mary's Chapel, is 592 feet (8 x 74) with the width of the Nave and Quire being one square each. However, this measurement only works if the Edgar Chapel, at the east end of the church complex, is extended into a (polygonal) apse as Bond claimed, rather than finishing in a straight wall. Bond published this in his plan of the chapel in 1909. Two years later a previously unknown 18th century manuscript from the collection of Colonel Wm Long of Clevedon, came to light and was found to show the two inclined wall-sections of the apse. The dimensions given, 87 feet by 49 feet, in the Wm Long manuscript only work as an internal measure if the apse is included, thus substantiating Bond's claim.

The Edgar Chapel showing polygonal apse

The Key to the Temple
Of all the Abbey buildings, the Lady Chapel, said to be built on the site of the Old Church (vetusta ecclesia), is the most intriguing and mysterious. On the resumption of excavations after the War this is where Bond now turned his attention in his search for King Arthur's grave.

The early 12th century Chronicler William of Malmesbury was invited to record the history of the Abbey around 1125, and wrote, “This church, then, is certainly the oldest I know in England, and from this circumstance derives its name (vetusta ecclesia).... In the pavement may be seen on every side stones designedly inlaid in triangles and squares, and figured with lead, under which, if I believe some sacred enigma to be contained, I do no injustice to religion.” This would appear to be a direct reference to the markings on the floor of the Mary Chapel as communicated to Bond by the Company of Avalon, as noted above.

Bond found that the Lady Chapel, and it follows the preceding vetusta ecclesia, was laid out to a geometric pattern known as the vesica piscis, the intersection of two interlocking circles, each centred on the perimeter of the other, the ratio of the width of the vesica to its height is the square root of 3.

The pointed oval figure of the vesica was symbolic of the union of Heaven and Earth in the body of Christ and used to enclose depictions of the Virgin, being used in the layout of many Gothic cathedrals. An example of a vesica pisces, intersected by St Michael's sword, can be seen in the cover of the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, designed by Bond of course.

Chalice Well, cover designed by Bligh Bond
In recording the dimensions of the Lady Chapel, Bond found the breadth between the faces of the central buttresses measured 37 feet and the length is approximately 64 feet where the points of the vesica touch the outer faces of the end walls. He identified another vesica external to this embracing the plinth-course, and a third marking three-quarters of its length. Each vesica contains a rhombus of two equilateral triangles. Their measures, Bond claimed, being symbolic of the sacred geometry using Gematria.

In 1921 Bond uncovered the remains of the so-called 'St David's Pillar', north of the Lady Chapel. This pillar was set up in the late 15th century, probably replacing something older said to mark the eastern extremity of the Old Church. Attached to the pillar was a brass plaque, found among the abbey ruins but now lost, which gave the dimensions of the Old Church as such:

“And lest the site or size of the earlier church should come to be forgotten because of such additions, he [St David] erected this column on a line drawn southwards through the two eastern angles of the same church, and cutting it off from the aforesaid chancel. And its length was 60ft westward from that line, its breadth was truly 26ft; the distance from the centre of this pillar from the midpoint between the aforesaid  angles, 48ft.”

St David's Pillar (1921)
This circular platform was constructed of small stones set in poor mortar & measuring 7.5 feet in diameter, the soft material in the centre of the platform was excavated to a depth of about 4 feet and contained 14th-century fragments. Bond suggested that this platform was a late reconstruction of an earlier monument thought to represent a pyramid erected to mark eastward extension of the vetusta ecclesia. However, excavations were suspended at a depth of 5 feet due to the many interments encountered. Sadly, all evidence of the Old Church were lost when Abbot Beere constructed the crypt (St Joseph's Chapel) below the Lady Chapel around 1500.

In plan Bond constructed a hexagon within a circle enclosing the Lady Chapel and, using sacred geometry, determined that St David's Pillar was set at one of the six points of a hexagram. It followed that William of Malmesbury's pyramids and therefore the site of King Arthur's grave would lie on the same circle that enclosed this hexagram to the south side of the Lady Chapel.

The Geometry of the Lady Chapel
He now turned his attention to the south side of the Lady Chapel, but before Bond could cut any turf and commence excavations he was dismissed and all archaeological work at the Abbey ceased. Bond's occult methods proved just too much for the Church to bear any longer.

Yet Bond had never claimed to be communicating with the dead monks of Glastonbury, he considered he had tapped into a collective memory. However, such methods were totally unacceptable to Bond's paymaster, the Church of England, and he was effectively banished from the Abbey. He left Britain for America in 1926 to work for the American Society for Psychical Research. 

Following Bond's dismissal any physical evidence for the apse at the end of the Edgar Chapel was obliterated, and, like much of his controversial work, covered over by the Church authorities. We would have to wait another 40 years before the archaeologist's trowel would turn the earth south of the Lady Chapel in search of Arthur's grave.

Copyright © 2018 Edward Watson

Frederick Bligh Bond, F.R.I.B.A.,The Gate of Remembrance: The Story Of The Psychological. Experiment Which Resulted In The Discovery Of The Edgar Chapel At Glastonbury. With A Record Of The Finding Of The Loretto Chapel In 1919. Third Edition, Marshall Jones, 1920.
Stephan A. Schwartz, The Secret Vaults of Time: Psychic Archeology and the Quest for Man's Beginnings. First published 1978, this edition Hampton Roads, 2001.

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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Lost Tomb of King Arthur at Glastonbury

Part I

“The memory of Arthur, the celebrated king of the Britons, should not be concealed. In his age, he was a distinguished patron, generous donor, and a splendid supporter of the renowned monastery of Glastonbury; they praise him greatly in their annals. Indeed, more than all other churches of his realm he prized the Glastonbury church of Holy Mary, mother of God, and sponsored it with greater devotion by far than he did for the rest. When that man went forth for war, depicted on the inside part of his shield was the image of the Blessed Virgin, so that he would always have her before his eyes in battle, and whenever he found himself in a dangerous encounter he was accustomed to kiss her feet with the greatest devotion.” [Gerald of Wales, Liber de Principis Instructione]

King Arthur in Avalon
The discovery of King Arthur's grave at Glastonbury in 1191 was probably the most significant single event at the Abbey, having a considerable impact on its fortune; by the 16th Century, the wealth of Glastonbury was second only to Westminster. When an audit was carried out for Henry VIII the Abbey was home to 54 monks and its annual wealth was declared as in excess of £3,000, a huge amount for the time. But how did Arthur become associated with Glastonbury?

From the very beginnings of the Arthurian Chronicle tradition and Romance literature in the 12th century King Arthur is linked with Glastonbury. In the Life of Gildas (Vitae Gildae) written around the middle of the 12th century by Caradoc of Llancarfan at the request of the Glastonbury monks, the tale of Guinevere's (Gwenhwyfar) abduction appears for the first time. Melwas, the king of the Summerland, holds her captive at Glastonbury leading to a stand off with King Arthur, who has mustered the armies of Devon and Cornwall. The issue is resolved by Gildas, then abbot of Glastonbury, and in return Arthur grants lands to the Abbey.

Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to introduce 'Avalon' to the Arthurian Canon as the place where the mortally wounded King is taken after the battle of Camlann, but Geoffrey never linked Glastonbury to Avalon. That would come just a few years later when a French tale claimed the family of Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail, the dish that Jesus used at the last supper, to the Vales of Avalon. The lead burial cross found in Arthur's grave (now lost) had confirmed Glastonbury was Avalon.

In John of Glastonbury's Cronica, Arthur visits a chapel at Beckery and witnesses a strange mass with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child (a similar episode is described in the Perlesvaus at St Augustine's chapel). This causes Arthur to change the arms on his shield to bear the Virgin as stated in the 9th century account in the History of the Britons (Historia Brittonum) at the 8th battle at Castle Guinnion. The shield is also described in the 10th century Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae) in the account of Arthur's victory at Badon. At Beckery the Virgin presented Arthur with a crystal cross (now also lost) which was processed at the Abbey during Lent.

The discovery of Prince Arthur's tomb by the inscription on the leaden cross
John Mortimer, 1797 (British Museum, Creative Commons license)

Bones and Black Marble
The discovery of King Arthur's grave was during the emergence of the Plantagenets, a dynasty with a curious fascination with Arthurian history. This was the time of the Crusades, the emergence of the Gothic cathedrals, and the first stories of King Arthur and the Grail. According to Gerald of Wales, the Plantagenet King Henry II had been told of the location of Arthur's grave by a bard:

"The abbot had the best evidence from the aforementioned King Henry, for the king had said many
times, as he had heard from the historical tales of the Britons and from their poets, that Arthur was
buried between two pyramids that were erected in the holy burial-ground." Gerald of Wales, Speculum Ecclesiae c.1216]

Writing in the first quarter of the 12th century, and likely before Caradoc of Llancarfan composed Vitae Gildae, William of Malmesbury recorded the existence of these two pyramids south of the Lady Chapel, bearing some inscriptions which he found difficult to read even then and considered them indeed ancient in his day. William had unrestricted access to the Abbey library but failed to connect King Arthur with Glastonbury in anyway. It would appear that in William's time the Glastonbury monks were blissfully unaware of who laid in their Old Cemetery.

A devastating fire on St Urban's Day 1184 destroyed much of the Abbey buildings at Glastonbury, including the Old Church (Vetusta Ecclesia), said to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea himself. Whether the first Glastonbury church had been founded by the disciples of Christ or not, William of Malmesbury said it was certainly the oldest church he knew.

But it wasn't until two years after the death of Henry II in 1189 that the monks decided to excavate in the Old Cemetery. Another version of the discovery of  King Arthur's grave claims the monks were digging a grave in the cemetery for a brother who had died and requested to be buried between the pyramids and they found Arthur's remains purely by chance. However, less than a decade after the fire the monks carried out an excavation in the ancient cemetery in 1191, digging where King Henry had apparently suggested. The monks discovered the bones of a tall man bearing evidence of weapon trauma and a woman with blond hair. An inscribed leaden cross found in the grave identified these bones as the mortal remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere lying in the Isle of Avalon. Gerald's account of the discovery of Arthur's grave was written within a couple of years of the event:

“Although legends had fabricated something fantastical about his demise (that he had not suffered death, and was conveyed, as if by a spirit, to a distant place), his body was discovered at Glastonbury, in our own times, hidden very deep in the earth in an oak-hollow, between two stone pyramids that were erected long ago in that holy place. The tomb was sealed up with astonishing tokens, like some sort of miracle. The body was then conveyed into the church with honor, and properly committed to a marble tomb. A lead cross was placed under the stone, not above as is usual in our times, but instead fastened to the underside. I have seen this cross, and have traced the engraved letters — not visible and facing outward, but rather turned inwardly toward the stone. It read: "Here lies entombed King Arthur, with Guenevere his second wife, on the Isle of Avalon.” [Gerald of Wales, Liber de Principis Instructione, c.1193]

As we have noted above, accounts of the discovery vary between reports, Gerald of Wales provides the most detailed as he visited the Abbey shortly after the discovery and handled the bones and burial cross, but was almost certainly not an eye witness to the exhumation as suggested by some commentators. Although the discovery is considered a hoax by today's archaeologists and historians it was not challenged at the time and no alternative burial site for King Arthur was claimed by any other ecclesiastical establishment in competition to Glastonbury.

After the exhumation we hear nothing more of Arthur and Guinevere's bones and it is unclear of their whereabouts except for a brief entry in the Annals of Waverley which states that they were held in the treasury in the east range of the abbey church, awaiting a more fitting location. However, it is possible that the tomb itself was the same marble tomb that Gerald had seen on his visit to the Abbey shortly after the exhumation in 1191. It would seem the tomb must have been located in the Lady Chapel as that was the only building completed at that time, before being moved at a later date.

Nearly ninety years after the exhumation the bones were moved to the prestigious position before the High Altar in the newly built Great Church  during a visit by King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to Glastonbury Abbey at Easter on 19th April 1278.

Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks and The Hammer of the Scots, was an Arthurian enthusiast; he claimed to have recovered King Arthur’s crown when he defeated the Welsh Prince Llewellyn and of course he is intimately associated with the Round Table at Winchester. On his journey to Glastonbury he had visited South Cadbury hillfort, later identified by John Leland as King Arthur's 'Camelot'.

Adam of Damerham, a monk at the abbey and eye witness to the translation, describes King Edward's visit in 1278, as such:

“The Lord Edward....with his consort, The Lady Eleanor, came to Glastonbury to celebrate Easter....The following dusk, the lord king had the tomb of the famous King Arthur opened. Wherein, in two caskets painted with their pictures and arms were found separately, the bones of the said king, which were of great size, and those of Queen Guenevere, which were of marvelous beauty......On the following day.....the lord king replaced the bones of the king and queen each in their own casket, having wrapped them in costly silks. When they had sealed, they ordered the tomb to be placed forthwith in front of the high altar, after the removal of the skulls for the veneration of the people.”

In December 1331, King Edward III and Queen Philippa visited Glastonbury Abbey, following a similar itinerary to his grandfather Edward I, paying due respects at King Arthur's tomb having also visited South Cadbury on route. They prayed before the High Altar where the tomb was then located between the tombs of the Saxon Kings, Edmund the Elder to the north and Edmund Ironside to the south.

The black marble tomb containing the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere remained there in the Great Church, but for one minor move in 1368 when Abbot Walter de Monnington in extending the choir moved the High Altar, relocating the three Royal tombs to maintain their prominent positions.

King Arthur's leaden burial cross was laid on top of the black marble tomb where it remained in peace for 261 years until the Dissolution in 1539.

Copyright © 2018 Edward Watson

The Tomb of King Arthur by Gerald of Wales (Author), John William Sutton (Translator) - from The Camelot Project  2001

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Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Quest at Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey holds a special place in popular culture; the site possesses a long history embellished with a rich mythology and inspired esotericism that brought the Somerset town to the spiritual centre of the New Age. It is very easy to become entangled in this mystical web and struggle to see the slim threads of truth at Glastonbury.

It is claimed that this is the site of the earliest Christian Church in Britain, founded by Joseph of Arimathea and the reputed burial place of the legendary King Arthur. But, alas, it seems science can shatter any myth and here archaeology has failed to find evidence to support the claims of the Abbey's Medieval monks.

Eight different directors have lead thirty six seasons of archaeological investigations between 1904 and 1979 but little in the way of archaeological reports has been documented from these 20th century excavations.

The Glastonbury Abbey Archaeological Archive Project, a joint venture by the University of Reading and Glastonbury Abbey, has revisited the archaeological archives and artefact collections of Glastonbury Abbey and came to the conclusion that the myths surrounding the abbey were made up by the monks to make Glastonbury one of the richest monasteries in the country.

In 1125 William of Malmesbury completed “De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie” after Abbot Henry of Blois had invited him to write the history of the Abbey. William pronounced it was indeed the oldest church he knew and repeated the Glastonbury claim that the first church on the site was established by missionaries in AD 166, or possibly even earlier, dating back to the time of Christ’s apostles, although he seemed to doubt this assertion himself and did not mention Joseph of Arimathea. William also failed to connect Arthur's grave with Glastonbury; in his history of the English kings he stated that “Arthur's grave is nowhere seen”.

Later versions of William's work were considerably altered by the Abbey monks to add foundation to the Glastonbury Legend. In the 14th century John of Glastonbury wrote his chronicle (Cronica Sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie) of the Abbey history continuing the work of Adam of Damerham and drawing heavily on William's book. It is in John's Cronica that the 'Prophecy of Melkin' appears for the first time, claiming that Joseph of Arimathea sleeps in the Isle of Avalon.

The Project team of 31 experts assert that the medieval monks deliberately designed the layout of the rebuilding in the 12th century to emphasise the ‘earliest church’ story, supplementing the Glastonbury Legend, and providing the abbey with a mystical feel; these myths appear to have clouded the judgement of the twentieth century archaeologists.

The Project re-examined the work of Ralegh Radford who excavated the Abbey site in the 1950s and 1960s and proclaimed to have discovered the site of King Arthur’s grave, as exhumed by the monks in 1191.

Radford had used Medieval sources such as Gerald of Wales: The Discovery of the Tomb of King Arthur, from 'Liber de Principis Instructione' (On the Instruction of Princes) c. 1223, to locate Arthur's grave:

“Although legends had fabricated something fantastical about his demise (that he had not suffered death, and was conveyed, as if by a spirit, to a distant place), his body was discovered at Glastonbury, in our own times, hidden very deep in the earth in an oak-hollow, between two stone pyramids that were erected long ago in that holy place. The tomb was sealed up with astonishing tokens, like some sort of miracle. The body was then conveyed into the church with honor, and properly committed to a marble tomb. A lead cross was placed under the stone, not above as is usual in our times, but instead fastened to the underside. I have seen this cross, and have traced the engraved letters — not visible and facing outward, but rather turned inwardly toward the stone. It read: 'Here lies entombed King Arthur, with Guenevere his second wife, on the Isle of Avalon'.” [The Camelot Project ]

Project leader Roberta Gilchrist states that the monks were desperate for funds for restoration works following the devastating fire of 1184; “The monks also deliberately designed the rebuilt church to look older in order to demonstrate its ancient heritage and pre-eminent place in monastic history, using archaic architecture style and reused material to emphasise the Abbey's mythical feel. This swelled pilgrim numbers and the Abbey's coffers.

The strategy paid off; by the end of the Middle Ages, Glastonbury Abbey was the second richest monastery in England.

The following posts will look at the work at Glastonbury carried out by the foremost archaeologists in the history of the Abbey excavations; Frederick Bligh Bond and CA Ralegh Radford in their respective searches for King Arthur's Tomb.

Copyright © 2018 Edward Watson

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Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Post-Roman origins of Glastonbury

Archaeology at the Abbey
Archaeology has revealed the remains of the succession of churches which have stood on the Glastonbury Abbey site since the Anglo-Saxon period when in the 7th Century the ancient county of Somerset came under the rule of King Ine of Wessex who granted lands and promoted the status of the Abbey. It was during this period that the first stone church was constructed on the site.

Hence, Philip Rahtz concluded that the Abbey site was a secondary development to the monastic sites at Glastonbury Tor and Beckery where he unearthed evidence of early religious activity during excavations in the 1960s.

The first Christian community at Glastonbury
Yet the Glastonbury monks had claimed a much earlier origin of the Abbey. The Glastonbury legend claims that Joseph of Arimathea had established the first Christian community in Britain here shortly after the crucifixion. Then in the 5th century St Patrick re-discovered the site, and then a British church was established on the site.

In the 10th century Dunstan became Abbot and extended Ine's church while establishing the Benedictine Rule. In the early 12th century Abbot Henry of Blois invited William of Malmesbury to write the history of the Abbey. In 1125 William completed “De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie” and pronounced it was indeed the oldest church he knew and repeated the Glastonbury claim that the first church on the site was established by missionaries in AD 166, or possibly even earlier, dating back to the time of Christ’s apostles, although he seemed to doubt this assertion himself and did not mention Joseph of Arimathea.

The Old Church
In 1184 a disastrous great fire at the abbey destroyed many buildings including the Old Church. The Lady Chapel was built on the site of the Old Church and shortly after in 1191 the monks claimed to have discovered the tombs of King Arthur and Guinevere found in the cemetery. The period of rebuilding the Abbey continued to the east of the older church and away from the ancient cemetery, through the Norman period producing the largest Abbey church  in England.

In the 14th century the Joseph of Arimathea legend was promoted through the work of John of Glastonbury, then, around 1500, under the Abbacy of Richard Beere, St Joseph's Chapel was created below the Lady Chapel destroying any archaeological evidence of the first church on the site.

In 1539 the Abbey was closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the last Abbot Richard Whiting was hanged on Glastonbury Tor. The Abbey became derelict over the centuries and in a ruinous state when it was purchased for the Church of England in 1908.

Minor archaeological excavations had been carried out at the Abbey during the 19th century but formal investigations started with the appointment of Frederick Bligh Bond. But after revealing that he had used occult practices to guide his excavations Bond was dismissed by the Church of England in 1922. Further excavations were carried out by Peers, Clapham & Horne in the late 1920s and 1930s.

From 1951-63 Dr CA Ralegh Radford was Director of Excavations at the Abbey. Radford was known for his special interest in the early Christianity of Britain, and particularly attracted to sites connected with the Arthurian legends of his native West Country, such as Castle Dore, Cadbury Castle and Tintagel which he (incorrectly) identified as an early Christian monastic site. Subsequently, his personal agenda at Glastonbury was to continue Bond's work and locate the site of King Arthur's tomb. Indeed, in 1963 Radford discovered a pit in the cemetery which he believed to be evidence of where the monks had exhumed the remains of Arthur and Guinevere in the 12th century.

Plan of Glastonbury Abbey from the Gate of Remembrance, by Frederick Bligh Bond

A Post-Roman Celtic Monastery?
Rhatz interpretation that Glastonbury Abbey was a secondary development to the monastic sites at Glastonbury Tor and Beckery endured until until recent re-examination of the Glastonbury archaeological archive.

Following thirty-six seasons of archaeological excavations from 1904–79, we have no definite information on the origins of the Abbey, with little in the way of archaeological reports produced by the 20th century excavators. For example, in 1981Radford released his interim findings for the Saxon and Anglo-Norman phases but virtually nothing since. When Radford died in 1999 his archive passed to Historic England making it available for analysis.

For the last ten years Roberta Gilchrist from the University of Reading has led the Glastonbury Abbey Archaeological Archive Project to conduct a comprehensive study of the archaeological archives and artefact collections of Glastonbury Abbey, and carry out a new geophysical survey of the site in an effort to separate archaeological fact from the rich mythology surrounding the Abbey.

Gilchrist set out to answer the key question of the date of the earliest settlement on the Glastonbury Abbey site. Reassessment of the archive and associated finds has revealed new evidence for earlier occupation on the Abbey site.

Sherds of pottery were noted indicating the presence of amphorae imported from the eastern Mediterranean, essentially storage jars that would have contained wine and oil. This small assemblage of Late Roman Amphora 1 (LRA1) has been dated from finds elsewhere in the southwest of Britain to around 450 – 550 AD.

Plan of the post Roman timber structure and associated late Roman amphorae [Liz Gardner]

Fourteen of these sherds of LRA1were associated with a roughly trodden floor and post-pits (recorded beneath the medieval west cloister walk) connected with timber structures situated in the early cemetery in the Abbey precinct. Their condition suggesting that this floor represents an undisturbed Post-Roman context, possibly associated with one or more timber halls, although Radford failed to recognise it as such. One of the post-pits returned a radiocarbon date suggesting a destruction date for the timber structure of the 8th or 9th centuries, indicating that the hall may have been in use for several centuries.

This confirms that long before the first monastic foundation was documented in 7th century Anglo Saxon charters there was high-status Post-Roman occupation at Glastonbury in the 5th or 6th centuries, refuting earlier claims that the development at Glastonbury Abbey was secondary to the monastic sites at Glastonbury Tor and Beckery.

Significantly, recent excavations at the royal monastery of Lyminge in Kent have also revealed a high-status hall complex as the precursor to the Anglo-Saxon monastery.

However, the presence of LRA1 pottery and timber structures at the Glastonbury Abbey site raises further questions on whether this early occupation was secular or religious; perhaps indicating the existence of a ‘Celtic monastery’ prior to the foundation of the Saxon monastery.

The Glastonbury Abbey Archaeological Archive Project
Digital Glastonbury Abbey - University of Reading
Roberta Gilchrist & Cheryl Green, Glastonbury Abbey: Archaeological Investigations 1904–79, Society of Antiquaries of London, 2015.

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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Madoc and the Discovery of America

Horn Gwennan, brought to the Gele,
To be given a square mast,
Was turned back to Afon Ganol’s quay
For Madog’s famous voyage

Madoc's Lost Harbour
Odstone House, Rhos on Sea, was designed and built by Manchester architect, Henry Goldsmith in 1912. Odstone had stood empty for the last ten years and became derelict with no interest from potential buyers for this colonial style house at Penrhyn Bay on the North Wales coast. Sadly the only interest came from a property developer Madock Development Ltd who planned to demolish Odstone and replace it with a dozen luxury apartments situated next to the golf course.

Odstone House
The driveway at Odstone is said to be formed from an old pier wall where legend has it that Prince Madoc set sail in 1170 and landed in Mobile, Alabama. Madoc's legendary voyage was commemorated on a bronze plaque outside the house.

Madoc plaque at Odstone House
The Afon Conwy did not always follow its current course and the present day estuary is a more recent development; thousands of years ago the Conwy flowed through the site of the Rhos on Sea golf course and into the sea at Penrhyn Bay, possibly the old river delta. It is thought the prehistoric Conwy flowed through the course of the Afon Ganol down the Mochdre valley and discharged at Penrhyn Bay.

The course of the Conwy abandoned the Mochdre valley when it became blocked at its northern end by Irish Sea Ice. During the glacial retreat the valley remained in a state of constant saturation for a long period forming a boggy, marsh environment. Subsequent silting blocked off most of the Conwy’s old course with the much reduced flow following the ancient course which survives as Afon Ganol. For a long period the mouth of this river formed a navigable inlet; ancient documents record it use by ships of between “20 or 30 tun”.

Old maps of Penrhyn Bay show a large meandering marshy area across Morfa Rhyd with a stream forking towards Rhos on Sea. The main flow continued over the present golf links, passed through the grounds of Odstone House and out to sea.

When a new sewer was being constructed opposite Odstone House in 1907, a stone wall about 12 foot thick, with holes said to be for iron stanchions, was discovered about 700 yards from the shore. Then during rebuilding of the sea wall in 1954 stone blocks were unearthed in the form of two walls about seven feet apart splaying to nine feet apart; 30 yards of the ancient quay formed part of rockery in the Odstone House garden, with the drive passing over the top of it. The former owner of Odstone House that had lived there for some 50 years said that her father had told her that Prince Madoc had set sail for America from an old stone pier in the garden.

A 15th century poem by Cynric ap Gronow records how Madoc's legendary ship Gwennan Gorn set sail from Gele (Abergele) but turned back to Afon Ganal's quay after being caught in a storm. However, another account claims Madoc sailed from the Glaslyn estuary on the west coast of Wales. Before William Madocks damned the outflow and the estuary silted up there was an island there called Ynys Fadog which it is claimed was named after Prince Madoc who set sail from this point. William Madocks built a village on the land he reclaimed from the sea and called it Tremadog, not after himself as many thought, but after the Prince who sailed for America. More than one departure point for Prince Madoc does not contradict the legend which claims that he returned from his initial voyage, gathered a larger fleet then left Wales, this time never to be seen again.

The Legend
This well known persistent Welsh legend claims that America had been discovered by Prince Madoc ap Gwain Gwynedd some 300 years before Columbus. Prince Madoc, a son of Owain 12th century ruler of Gwynedd, sailed out of Rhos on Sea on the North Wales Coast, in 1170 to find a new place to live across the western ocean. Some years later he returned with news of a 'new abundant country', gathered a fleet of ships and hundreds of expectant settlers and sailed west again, never to return.

Legend tells that they landed somewhere in the area of what is now Alabama, and settled with a native American tribe known as the Mandans. In the 17th century as America was colonised reports filtered back to Britain of contact with Welsh speaking American Indians. In 1669 Reverend Morgan Jones reported that his life was spared by a tribe of North American Indians because they were Welsh speaking; in 1810, Major Amos Stoddard, first Governor of Tennessee, discovered that Indian history believed that ancient forts close to the Alabama River were built by the Welsh whose leader was called “Modok”. However, on their expeditions across North America during 1804-1806, Lewis and Clark reported that they had not found any evidence of Welsh speaking Indians. The Mandan tribe are said to have been wiped out by a smallpox epidemic introduced by traders in 1837.

Back in the late 16th century John Dee, occult philosopher and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I of England, used the story of Prince Madoc's discovery of America prior to Columbus to assert British claims to “all the Coasts and Islands beginning at or about Terra Florida......unto Atlantis going Northerly.” Dee claimed to have drawn his information from an 'ancient Welsh chronicle'. Without doubt Madoc's story had been in oral circulation for some years but it wasn't until Sir George Peckham's 'True Reporte of the late Discoveries of the Newfound Landes' of 1583 that the tale appeared in print for the first time. Peckham also pointed to the 'ancient Welsh chronicles' as his source. Dee had also cited King Arthur as conqueror of Frisland in the north polar regions and therefore his heir Queen Elizabeth had a legitimate claim there.

However, there is just the faintest hint that knowledge of Madoc's discovery was known before Columbus 'discovered' the New World when he landed in the West Indies in 1492.

Richard Hakluyt in his 'Principal Navigations' (1600) cites a poem by Maredudd ap Rhys, dated to around 1440, which suggests there was a Welsh tradition extant in the 15th century of a seafarer by the name of Madoc, although the poem does not specifically mention the discovery of America. David Powel published an edition of Humphrey Llwyd's 1599 translation of the ancient Welsh Chronicles (Cronica Walliae) to which Powel added details of Madoc's second voyage, referring to Gutyn Owain who wrote between 1470 and 1490 that Madoc “went thither againe with ten sailes”. This now appears to be a lost source as Madoc is not mentioned in any of Gutyn Owain's surviving manuscripts.

John Cabot discovers Newfoundland
Yet, Columbus was certainly aware of the discovery of Newfoundland off the North American coast by the Men of Bristol in 1480 who had claimed to be searching for the legendary island of Hy-Brasil. Later in 1497 the Venetian explorer John Cabot made the 'official discovery' of the coast of North America under the commission of King Henry VII of England.

Odstone House Demolished
In 2016, some 800 years after Madoc set sail from Penrhyn Bay, more than 2,000 signatures were gathered in an attempt to save Odstone House after a planning application was submitted by agent Cadnant Planning on behalf of Madock Development to demolish the property and build 12 apartments. Campaigners argued the landmark property was built in the “Arts and Crafts” style and an important part of local heritage.

Odstone House, derelict just prior to demolition in 2016
Later that year, Madock Developments withdrew the application to permit Cadw to assess the historic value of the building. Following a review and site visit, Cadw, the Welsh Government’s department to conserve Wales’s heritage, confirmed Odstone did not represent a building of any special architectural interest and presumably there was no evidence of the ancient quay.

Subsequently, Madock Developments resubmitted their planning application and by September 2017 Odstone House had been demolished and Madoc's quay with it. But they couldn't demolish the legend of Prince Madoc's discovery of America.

On the other side of the Atlantic the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a plaque at Mobile Bay in 1953:

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Concept of a Legend

Read a book for World Book Day, 1st March 2018.

Concepts of Arthur
Thomas Green 
Tempus, 2007 (The History Press, 2008)
ISBN: 978-0752444611

This is a detailed study of the origins of Arthur and the nature and development of the early Arthurian legend under the former nom de plume of Caitlin R. Green.

Here Green argues for a concept of Arthur as a figure of legend, not history.

Green asserts that the case for a historical Arthur rests entirely on two sources; the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons) and the Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals). These two texts are the starting point for any argument presented for a historical Arthur.

At first glance both texts appear to present a concept of Arthur that is historical. The History of the Britons contains a complete section (usually referred to as Chapter 56) which presents Arthur as a leader of battles, not a king, and lists twelve successful conflicts culminating in the Battle of Badon, also referenced in a contemporary source, De Excidio Britanniae of AD 540 (although Gildas does not mention Arthur by name). Green sees the History of the Britons as presenting a concept of Arthur as a warrior who fought against Germanic invaders in the late 5th century.

Green suggests the History of the Britons could simply represent a mythical or folkloric figure drawn into history and far from being a 'heap', as descibed in the prologue of Nennius, sees the text as a carefully constructed work in ‘Biblical style’ with explicit political aims expressly written for Merfyn, King of Gwynedd 829-30 AD.

The Badon entry in the Welsh Annals is clearly influenced by Arthur's eighth battle at Guinnon in chapter 56 of the The History of the Britons. Whereas, the battle of Camlann, Green sees as a creation of the mid to late 10th century, and treated very differently by the ‘guardians of Welsh tradition’ possessing an 'Otherworldy' context and just one of several legendary versions of Arthur’s demise circulating in early medieval Wales.

Green concludes that the The History of the Britons is of dubious historical value and questions the confidence we can hold in its Arthurian reference, seeing the text as part of the process of historicizing a legend.

This an important work in the search for Arthur in which Green examines the earliest level of the Arthurian legend prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth, unravelling the world of a superhero battling monstrous supernatural beasts, witches and giants.

Concepts of Arthur
Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 The Arthur of History: The Evidence and Its Critics
Chapter 2 The Earliest Stratum of the Arthurian Legend
Chapter 3 The Nature of Arthur: ‘A Mighty Defender'?
Chapter 4 The Nature of Arthur's War-Band and Family
Chapter 5 The Origins of ‘Arthur'
Chapter 6 The Historicization of Arthur
Chapter 7 The Arthur of the British: A Maximum View

From May 2017, Concepts of Arthur has been unavailable in all editions for well over a year and the rights have now reverted to the author who has made the original 2007 version of the book available as a free PDF download on her website: Dr Caitlin R. Green Arthuriana: Studies in Early Medieval History & Legend

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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Top Ten Arthurian Locations

" hold opinion that there was no such Arthur and that all such books as been made of him been but feigned and fables...[yet] there were many evidences of the contrary.

First, ye may see his sepulture in the monastery of Glastonbury; and also in Polychronicon, in the fifth book, the sixth chapter, and in the seventh book, the twenty-third chapter, where his body was buried, and after founden and translated into the said monastery. Ye shall see also in th’istory of Bochas, in his book De Casu Principum, part of his noble acts, and also of his fall. Also Galfridus, in his British book, recounteth his life. And in divers places of England many remembrances been yet of him and shall remain perpetually, and also of his knights: first, in the abbey of Westminster, at Saint Edward’s shrine, remaineth the print of his seal in red wax, closed in beryl, in which is written patricius arthurus britannie gallie germanie dacie imperator; item, in the castle of Dover ye may see Gawain’s skull and Cradok’s mantle; at Winchester, the Round Table; in other places Lancelot’s sword and many other things." [William Caxton, Preface to Malory's Morte d'Arthur]

1. Glastonbury: Ancient Avalon
    The site of the tomb of King Arthur

2. Tintagel: Arthur's Castle?
    Was there a Dark Age fortress here?

3. King Arthur lives in Merrie Carlisle
    Arthurian sites in Northern Cumbria

4. The Winchester Round Table
    The wooden table at Winchester that was once believed to King Arthur's Round Table

5. On the Trail of the Dragons of Emrys
    The beginnings of the Merlin legend on a hill in Snowdonia

6. Arthur and the  Dogheads of Eidin
    An ancient Welsh poem recounts Arthur fighting dogheads 

7. Cadbury Castle: Visions of Camelot
    Was this Dark Age hillfort in Somerset King Arthur's fortress?

8. Arthur, Stonehenge and the Solstice
    Was King Arthur buried within the Giants Dance along with his relatives?

9. Dover Castle: Gawain's Skull
    Gawain, the greatest knight, is said to be interred at the castle

10. Dozmary Pool: Nothing but Waves.....
      Is this isolated pool on Bodmin Moor the home of the Lady of the Lake?

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