Hot on the heels of the revelation that the Loch Ness Monster may have been dreamed up to help business in the area comes another out of Glastonbury that the famous story of the Abbey being the burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere may have been concocted by monks needing money. Oh, the humanity!
A new study of all known archaeological records of the Glastonbury Abbey has just been completed by Roberta Gilchrist, professor of archaeology at the University of Reading, and a team of 31 researchers. Their goal was to prove or disprove some of the most cherished and repeated stories of the site: that Jesus walked there as a young man with Joseph of Arimathea, whose walking stick miraculously flowers every Christmas; that the first church was built by the 12 apostles; that Joseph may have brought the Holy Grail there; and that Arthur and Guinevere were buried there.
Gilchrist and her team did a lot of debunking. The blossoming walking stick or Glastonbury Thorn, from which a thorn is sent to the Queen every December, is just a common hawthorn. The story of the church being built by the apostles came from the account of a 12th-century historian, William of Malmesbury, who actually said he only “heard” that it was built by them.
The best yarn is the Arthurian grave site. Gilchrist found that a fire had destroyed the already-famous abbey in 1184. The monks, desperate to rebuild their moneymaker, created the story of Glastonbury – even though it wasn’t an island – being the legendary isle of Avalon where Arthur and Guinevere were buried and they “discovered” their graves there. A leaden cross with an inscription about the burial appears to have been a fake. The ruse worked and the abbey was soon rebuilt and back in business.
Gilchrist also proved that later alleged discoveries of Arthur’s grave site were actually just pits of builders’ rubble from the abbey’s construction.
While its stories of King Arthur have been discredited, the Glastonbury Abbey is still a unique and interesting historical place. For better tales of Arthur and the Knights, stick with Monty Python and the Holy Grail.