Is Glastonbury Tor really the legendary island of Avalon, where King Arthur was buried?
Glastonbury Tor is a conical hill located in the English town of the Somerset county of the same name. It is surmounted by an open-air tower of the fourteenth century dedicated to St.Michael, and over the centuries has concentrated on itself the attention of historians and writers for the alleged link with the Arthurian cycle and the Britannia subjects.
The archaeological excavations have revealed that the hill was a place frequented both during the Iron Age and in the following centuries by the Romans, while the typical terracing would date back to the Neolithic age.
The first monastic church, always dedicated to St. Michael, was made of wood and destroyed during an earthquake in 1275. A few years later, during the 14th century, today’s stone construction was built, which stands perfectly preserved on the top of the hill.
The beliefs regarding the function of the hill are ancient and properly documented. The place would have been a pilgrimage destination for Catholics from the late Middle Ages until the Protestant Reformation, and the Welsh writer and religious Giraldus Cambrensis, of the twelfth century, associated the hill to Avalon, the mythical island where King Arthur would rest, waiting for the world needs him again.
The “Tor” (old english word meaning hill or rock) was called “Ynys yr Afalon” when the coffins of the King and Queen Ginevra were discovered in 1191, an event documented by Cambrensis, who wrote how the remains were later moved. Many scholars suspect that these events are the total result of fantasy, conceived in Giraldus’ work who wanted giving greater prestige and an age-old history to the hill, for increasing its fame.
According to the legends, Avalon was the place where the dead met and the place where the living passed to another form of existence. The hill could therefore have assumed a remarkable level of prestige in the geography of England if it had been officially recognized as “Island of Avalon”.
The association of a Welsh cleric with the cycle of King Arthur should not seem unusual: Avalon would be the place visited by Jesus Christ and Joseph of Arimathea, where the latter brought the cup with the blood lost by Christ on the Cross and where the Holy Grail was buried. The first church in Britain would built here. The historical testimonies, all transmitted by Cambrensis, tells that it was Abbot Henry of Blois who ordered the excavations in the hill, which brought to light two sarcophagi, one of which was inscribed:
“Here lies entombed the renowned king Arthur in the island of Avalon.”
The remains were later buried in Glastonbury Abbey in front of King Edward I and his wife.
Despite the testimony and the beauty of the hill, the historical reconstruction of an “Avalon” in the middle of England is generally considered a well-constructed historical fake, aimed at collecting money linked to pilgrimages.