Glastonbury and its once powerful Abbey are arguably among the most enigmatic and mystical sites in England. The place simply exudes legends, mysteries and improbable lore. One cannot speak about Glastonbury without the mystical King Arthur immediately coming to mind as well as speculative stories about the Holy Grail, Joseph of Arimathea and of course, the Goddess and Avalon. It happens to be one of my most favorite sacred sites in Great Britain, one I have visited more times than I can count over the years. As such, it is no accident that Glastonbury is the chosen location of my historical thriller which is presently making the rounds of literary agent review…time will tell regarding this book’s future. In the meantime, no question Glastonbury will be one of the subjects under my ‘Ancient Legends’ postings as this blog goes forward, for it hosts a wealth of legendary myths and historical facts. One such historical event mixed with legend is that of ‘The Great Fire of 1184.’
In a nutshell, for several years before the fire, Glastonbury had been without an Abbot following the death of Robert of Winchester in about 1178(exact dates vary slightly depending on historical source!) With the absence of a strong Abbot at the helm of this mighty abbey, nefarious machinations for political power and personal gain infiltrated the community. Additional speculation by royal watchers was that King Henry II was reluctant to name a candidate for the Abbot’s chair as to do so would cut off his direct access to the treasury which he needed for his war with France. However after much pressure by the monks, he did name a ‘Custodian’ by the name of Peter De Marcy who for various reasons was vehemently hated by the Community.
On May 25th, 1184 fire broke out in the most sacred of the Abbey’s buildings, the Ecclesia Vestuta, or ‘old church’ which housed the ‘Holy of Holies’, or foundation remnants from Joseph of Arimathea’s beehive church dating a thousand years previous; it was also the professed burial site of Mary, mother of Jesus. The fire happened about nine in the morning, just before the prayer office of Terce. One historical speculation is that within the Ecclesia Vestuta, the curtain or tapestry hanging over the entrance to Holy of Holies caught fire from a candle . From the previous night, the May winds had been unusually high, vigorously fueling the flames. Regardless of the cause, to the horror of Glastonbury’s monks, their beloved great Abbey and nearly all of its buildings were brought to ground within a matter of hours.
More than 800 years later, the cause behind this event still intrigues. In addition to the ‘curtain’ theory, legend speculates it might have been a result of jealous arson or the intervening hand of spirit ; after all, fire does purify. If you are planning a visit to England and love the mysterious and sacred mystical, be sure to add Glastonbury to your list of ‘must see’s’. In addition to the Abbey ruins there is the Chalice Well, the enigmatic Tor and numerous other intrigues within Glastonbury’s legends. Located in Southwest England, the town of Glastonbury is approximately 12 miles to the south of Wells…site of a very famous cathedral!
Photo©2011 Gaye F. Mack