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(glăs`tənbərē), town (1991 pop. 6,751), Somerset, SW England. It has a leather industry, but Glastonbury is famous for its religious associations and many legends. One legend tells that St. Joseph of ArimatheaJoseph of Arimathea, Saint
, in the New Testament, wealthy man, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, who gave the body of Jesus a decent burial. The Christian Church has always honored him.
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 founded the first Christian church in England there. On Wearyall Hill he is said to have rested his staff, which rooted and became the Glastonbury thorn, blooming annually on Christmas Eve. Another story identifies Glastonbury as the Isle of AvalonAvalon
, in Celtic mythology, the blissful otherworld of the dead. In medieval romance it was the island to which the mortally wounded King Arthur was taken, and from which it was expected he would someday return. Avalon is often identified with Glastonbury in Somerset, England.
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 of Arthurian legendArthurian legend,
the mass of legend, popular in medieval lore, concerning King Arthur of Britain and his knights. Medieval Sources

The battle of Mt. Badon—in which, according to the Annales Cambriae (c.
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. Glastonbury Abbey was a center of learning in the Middle Ages, and the legends made it an object of pilgrimage, helping to make the abbey one of the richest in Western Europe. Extensive remains of an Iron Age lake village have been found nearby, and there is evidence of a glass-making complex dating to Saxon times (c. A.D. 700).


town (1990 pop. 27,901), Hartford co., central Conn., a suburb of Hartford on the Connecticut River; inc. 1690. Located near a farming region, the town has industries that include dairying, fruit processing, poultry research and breeding, and light manufacturing. Several 17th-century houses still stand in Glastonbury, which was the birthplace of American politician Gideon WellesWelles, Gideon
, 1802–78, American statesman, b. Glastonbury, Conn. He was (1826–36) editor and part owner of the Hartford Times, one of the first New England papers to support Andrew Jackson.
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Glastonbury (England)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Glastonbury, a town in southwest England, arose out of prehistory in the middle of the seventh century when a Celtic church was established on top of one of the nearby hills—Glastonbury Tor. Three hundred years later, Saint Dunstan (924–988) refurbished and enlarged the church, which would evolve into a medieval monastic center. Glastonbury was one of the largest and wealthiest abbeys in the land, and its abbot’s influence reached to the highest levels of the royal court in London. However, prior to the rise of the church in the area, layers of myths and legends may be unearthed.

Although far from the sea today, Glastonbury was surrounded by water a mere 2,000 years ago. The area is believed by many to have been a center for pre-Christian life and worship. The pre-Christian speculations meld into the identification of Glastonbury as the mythical Isle of Avalon, a word derived from the Celtic deity Avalloc (or Avallach), who ruled the underworld. Identifying Glastonbury with Avalon links the region with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Avalon was the final resting place of the good king.

Another popular legend is that, during the years of Jesus’ life not covered in the Bible, Jesus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea, supposedly his great uncle, to Glastonbury. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea came into possession of the cup used at the Last Supper. He used the cup to catch some of the blood that flowed from Jesus’ body as he was crucified. He returned to Glastonbury and buried the cup (which came to be known as the Holy Grail) just below Glastonbury Tor. Shortly thereafter, a spring, now called Chalice Well, began to flow. Its water was a source of health and youthfulness. If one accepts the story of Joseph and the cup, the real purpose behind the Knights of the Round Table becomes the discovery of the Holy Grail. On a more practical level, the story of Joseph served to bolster later British claims to have a Christian history that stood independently of Rome.

The legends that had grown up around Glastonbury were inextricably linked to the history of the old Celtic church/monastery in 1190, when the monks residing in Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the tomb of Arthur in the graveyard of Glastonbury Abbey south of the Lady Chapel. In the tomb was a lead cross about a foot long, with a Latin inscription: Hic iacet sepultus inclitus rex arturius in insula avalonia, “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” The artifact (now generally believed to be a hoax perpetrated by the monks) linked Avalon and Arthur to the town and Abbey. From that point, it became a popular pilgrimage site.

The bones in the tomb (reputedly of Arthur and Guinevere) were placed in caskets. King Edward I (r. 1270–1307) visited the abbey in 1278, at which time the remains were put in a black marble tomb that was placed before the high altar in the abbey church. Unfortunately, Glastonbury did not stand in the face of King Henry VIII’s (r. 1509–1547) dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. Subsequently, the abbey was vandalized, and Arthur’s remains disappeared.

After the destruction of the abbey, Glastonbury receded into history, but in recent centuriesits legend has revived. The revival of interest in Glastonbury has been part of the growing popular and academic study of the Arthurian legends (some identifying nearby Cadbury Hill with Camelot) and of the ancient monolithic structures, especially Stonehenge, in neighboring Wiltshire. Through the twentieth century, Esoteric metaphysical believers and Christian mystics took up residence in and near Glastonbury to revel in its legendary past.

The legend of Glastonbury was considerably expanded in the 1920s by Katharine Maltwood. A student of the Arthurian legends, she began to study large-scale maps of the countryside surrounding Glastonbury Tor. She noticed in the patterns of the earthworks, field tracks, river banks, and other artifacts of the landscape what appeared to be a gigantic star map. As shown in the illustrations of her 1929 book, A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars, the terrestrial features present the twelve signs of the zodiac in a giant circle, thirty miles in circumference, with Glastonbury Tor in the center. Some of the zodiacal figures are two to three miles in length and could be seen only from some miles in the air. If one accepted the idea of the Glastonbury zodiac, then one would also have to suggest that many centuries before the megalith builders, there was a community at Glastonbury that was able to shape the terrain to form the mystical and astrological patterns.

Contemporaneously with Maltwood, Frederick Bligh Bond (1864–1945), a local historian interested in Spiritualism, began to direct an excavation of the abbey that proved remarkable for the number of discoveries he made. In the wake of the discoveries, he disclosed that he had been directed by the spirit of a former monk who claimed to have lived at the abbey in its heyday.

In the decades since World War II, Glastonbury has come to life as one of Britain’s foremost New Age centers. All of the sites associated with the old legends have been well marked, and the town now rivals Stonehenge as a magnet for tourists to western England. A variety of New Age and alternative groups have opened centers in Glastonbury, and a number of alternative religious events now occur there weekly. All of this activity has led to a veritable library of material about Glastonbury, ranging from tracts by true believers to the very skeptical volume by Robert Dunning, Christianity in Somerset (1970). Dunning claims that all of the stories about the region originated in the twelfth century as part of a deliberate attempt of the monks to raise money by promoting pilgrimage to the abbey.


Fortune, Dion. Avalon of the Heart. London: Aquarian Press, 1971.
Greed, John A. Glastonbury Tales. Bristol, UK: St. Trillo Publications, 1975.
Lewis, Lionel Smithett. St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. London: James Clarke, 1976.
Maltwood, Katharine. A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars. London: James Clarke, 1964.
Roberts, Anthony. Atlantean Traditions in Ancient Britain. London: Rider and Company, 1977.
Wilcock, John. A Guide to Occult Britain. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1976.
Williams, Mary, ed. Glastonbury: A Study in Patterns. Hammersmith, UK: RILKO, 1969.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a fortified settlement of Briton farmers and craftsmen in southwestern England (Somerset). Glaston-bury belonged to the La Tène culture and has been dated between the last few centuries B.C. and part of the first century A.D. Excavations were carried out during 1892-1907. The remains of 70 round (5-10 m in diameter) huts built on piles in a marsh area were discovered. The finds indicate the development of local copper and iron metallurgy. Iron bars were used for money. Bone artifacts, ornaments, and wooden objects (including richly decorated vessels) were also found. Earthenware was modeled and made on a wheel, with decorations in the form of spirals and meanders.


Bulleid, A., and H. St. G. Gray. The Glastonbury Lake Village: A Full Description of the Excavations and the Relics Discovered, 1892-1907, vols. 1-2. London, 1911-17.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a town in SW England, in Somerset: remains of prehistoric lake villages; the reputed burial place of King Arthur; site of a ruined Benedictine abbey, probably the oldest in England. Pop.: 8429 (2001)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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At Glassenbury we had, as Staff, Barbara Kenyon and Harold Craxton, Mr.