The town is known for its history, including Glastonbury Lake Village, Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset Rural Life Museum and Glastonbury Tor, the many myths and legends associated with the town, and the Glastonbury Festival which takes place in the nearby village of Pilton.
The origin of the name Glastonbury is unclear but when the settlement is first recorded in the 7th and the early 8th century, it was called Glestingaburg. The burg element is Anglo-Saxon and could refer either to a fortified place such as a burh or, more likely, a monastic enclosure, however the Glestinga element is obscure, and may derive from an Old English word or from a Saxon or Celtic personal name.
William of Malmesbury in his De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie gives the Old Celtic Ineswitrin (or Ynys Witrin) as its earliest name, and notes that the eponymous founder was Glast, a descendant of Cunedda.
During the 7th millennium BC the sea level rose and flooded the valleys and low lying ground surrounding Glastonbury so the Mesolithic people occupied seasonal camps on the higher ground, indicated by scatters of flints. The Neolithic people continued to exploit the reedswamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways. These included the Sweet Track, west of Glastonbury, which is one of the oldest engineered roads known and the oldest timber trackway discovered in Northern Europe. Tree-ring dating (dendrochronology) of the timbers has enabled very precise dating of the track, showing it was built in 3807 or 3806 BC. It has been claimed to be the oldest road in the world.
The track was discovered in the course of peat digging in 1970, and is named after its discoverer, Ray Sweet. It extended across the marsh between what was then an island at Westhay, and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick, a distance close to 2,000 metres (about 1.24 miles). The track is one of a network of tracks that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Built in the 39th century BC, during the Neolithic period, the track consisted of crossed poles of ash, oak and lime (Tilia) which were driven into the waterlogged soil to support a walkway that mainly consisted of oak planks laid end-to-end. Curves at the bases of the poles show that they were from coppiced woodland.
Most of the track remains in its original location, and several hundred metres of it are now actively conserved using a pumped water distribution system. Other portions are stored at the British Museum, London, while a reconstruction can be seen at the Peat Moors Centre near Glastonbury. Since the discovery of the Sweet Track, it has been determined that it was actually built along the route of an even earlier track, the Post Track, dating from 3838 BC and so 30 years older.
Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age village, close to the old course of the River Brue, on the Somerset Levels near Godney, some north west of Glastonbury. It covers an area of north to south by east to west, and housed around 100 people in five to seven groups of houses, each for an extended family, with sheds and barns, made of hazel and willow covered with reeds, and surrounded either permanently or at certain times by a wooden palisade. The village was built in about 300 BC and occupied into the early Roman period (around 100AD) when it was abandoned, possibly due to a rise in the water level. It was built on a morass on an artificial foundation of timber filled with brushwood, bracken, rubble and clay.
During the middle ages the town largely depended on the abbey but also had important interests in the wool trade which reduced in the 18th century. The towns charter of incorporation was received in 1705. Growth in the trade and economy was largely depended on the drainage of the surrounding moors. The opening of the Glastonbury Canal did cause an upturn in trade, and encouraged local building.
Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, was executed with two of his monks on 14 November, 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Glastonbury received national media coverage in 1999 when cannabis plants were found in the town's floral displays.
The town of Glastonbury is particularly notable for the myths and legends surrounding the hill around which the town has grown, Glastonbury Tor, which rises up from the otherwise flat landscape of the Somerset Levels. These myths concern Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail, and also King Arthur. Glastonbury is also said to be the centre of several ley lines.
The legend of Joseph of Arimathea was the result of a work of fiction by the french poet Robert de Boron in the 12th century. The original story was likely written after the monks of Glastonbury "discovered" the bodies of King Arthur and Guinevere, and is also known as Joseph d'Arimathe or Le Roman de I'Estoire dou Graal. It is thought to be part of a trilogy but only fragments of the later books survive today. The author is best known for his Arthurian romances centred around the Holy Grail, and became the inspiration for the later Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian tales and the subsequent Matter of Britain.
The original story describes how Joseph captured Jesus' blood in a cup (the Holy Grail) and that subsequently he and his son brought it to somewhere in Britain, probably Avalon, where they were imprisoned by a pagan king. Later stories (the Vulgate Cycle) added new plots and scenes, which completely reworked Boron's original tale. Here, Joseph of Arimathea was no longer the chief character in the Grail origin. It was Joseph's son, Josephus, who took over his role of the Grail keeper.
Today, Glastonbury Abbey presents itself as "traditionally the oldest above-ground Christian church in the World," which according to the legend was built at Joseph's behest to house the Holy Grail, 65 or so years after the death of Jesus. The legend also says that earlier Joseph had visited Glastonbury along with Jesus as a child. The legend probably was encouraged in the mediaeval period when religious relics and pilgrimages were profitable business for abbeys. However William Blake believed in this legend and wrote the poem that became the words to the patriotic English song, 'Jerusalem' (see And did those feet in ancient time).
Joseph is said to have arrived in Glastonbury by boat over the flooded Somerset Levels. On disembarking he stuck his staff into the ground, which flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn (or Holy Thorn). This is the explanation behind the existence of a hybrid hawthorn tree that only grows within a few miles of Glastonbury.
This hawthorn flowers twice annually, once in spring and again around Christmas time (depending on the weather). Each year a sprig of thorn is cut by the local Church of England priest and the eldest child from St Johns school, which is then sent to the Queen to feature on her Christmas table top.
The original Holy Thorn was a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages but was chopped down during the English Civil War (in legend the roundhead soldier who did it was blinded by a flying splinter). A replacement thorn was planted in the 20th century on Wearyall hill (originally in 1951 to mark the Festival of Britain; but the thorn had to be replanted the following year as the first attempt did not take); but many other examples of the thorn grow throughout Glastonbury including those in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, St Johns Church and Chalice Well.
In some versions of the Arthurian myth, Glastonbury is conceived of as the legendary island of Avalon. An early Welsh story links Arthur to the Tor in an account of a face-off between Arthur and the Celtic king, Melwas, who had apparently kidnapped Arthur's wife Queen Guinevere. Geoffrey of Monmouth first identified Glastonbury with Avalon in 1133. In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and Guinevere to the south of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey church, which was visited by a number of contemporary historians including Giraldus Cambrensis. The remains were later moved, and lost during the Reformation. Many scholars suspect that this discovery was a pious forgery to substantiate the antiquity of Glastonbury's foundation, and increase its renown. According to some versions of the Arthurian legend, Lancelot retreated to Glastonbury Abbey in penance following the death of Arthur.
It falls within the Wells constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. The current MP is David Heathcoat-Amory, a member of the Conservative Party.
It is within the South West England (European Parliament constituency) which elects 7 MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.
The walk up the Tor to the distinctive tower at the summit (the partially restored remains of an old church) is rewarded by vistas of the Mid-Somerset area including the Levels, drained marshland. From there, above sea level, it is easy to appreciate how Glastonbury was once an island and, in the winter, the surrounding moors are often flooded, giving that appearance once more. It is an agricultural region typically with open fields of permanent grass, surrounded by ditches with willow trees. Access to the Moors and Levels is by "droves", i.e. green lanes. The Levels and inland Moors can be below peak tides and have large areas of peat. Although underlain by much older Triassic age formations that protrude to form what would once have been islands—such Glastonbury Tor. The lowland landscape was formed only during the last 10,000 years, following the end of the last ice age. Glastonbury Tor is composed of Upper Lias Sand.
Glastonbury today is a centre for religious tourism and pilgrimage. Diverse strains of mysticism and paganism co-exist alongside the followers of its Catholic heritage. As with many towns of similar size, the centre is not as thriving as it once was but Glastonbury supports a remarkable number of alternative shops. The outskirts of the town include a DIY shop and the slow redevelopment of a former sheepskin and slipper factory site, once owned by Morlands. Although the redevelopment has been slow, clearance of the site has begun with a dramatic change to its appearance.
The Tribunal, was a medieval merchant's house. It was used as the Abbey courthouse, and during the Monmouth Rebellion trials by Judge Jeffreys. It now serves as a museum containing possessions and works of art from the Glastonbury Lake Village which were preserved in almost perfect condition in the peat after the village was abandoned. It also houses the tourist information centre.
The octagonal Market Cross was built in 1846 by Benjamin Ferrey.
The Somerset Rural Life Museum is a museum of the social and agricultural history of Somerset, housed in buildings surrounding a 14th century barn once belonging to Glastonbury Abbey. It was used for the storage of arable produce, particularly wheat and rye, from the abbey's home farm of approximately 524 acres. Threshing and winnowing would also have been carried out in the barn. The barn which was built from local 'shelly' limestone, with thick timbers supporting the stone tiling of the roof. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 the barn was given to the Duke of Somerset. By the early 20th century it was being used as a farm store by the Mapstone family. In 1974 they donated it to Somerset County Council and between 1976 and 1978 underwent restoration.
The Chalice Well is a holy well situated at the foot of the Tor. The natural spring has been in almost constant use for at least two thousand years. Water issues from the spring at a rate of 25,000 gallons per day and has never failed, even during drought. Iron oxide deposits give water a reddish hue, as dissolved ferrous oxide becomes oxygenated at the surface and is precipitated. Like the hot springs in nearby Bath, the water is believed to possess healing qualities. The well itself is built of stone blocks and forms 2 underground chambers, the inner one reached through an archway at the foot of the west wall of the well-shaft. Total depth is about 9 ft. Wooden well-cover with wrought-iron decoration made in 19l9. In addition to the legends associated with Glastonbury, the Well is often portrayed as a symbol of the female aspect of deity, with the male symbolised by Glastonbury Tor. As such, it is a popular destination for pilgrims in search of the divine feminine, including modern Pagans. The Well is however popular with all faiths and in 2001 became a World Peace Garden.
The Glastonbury Canal ran just over through two locks from Glastonbury to Highbridge where it entered the Bristol Channel in the early 1800s, however this became uneconomic with the arrival of the railway.
Glastonbury and Street was the biggest station on the original Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway main line from Highbridge to Evercreech Junction until closed in 1966 under the Beeching axe. It was the junction for the short branch line to Wells which closed in 1951.
Road transport is provided by the A39 which passes through Glastonbury from Wells connecting the town with Street and the M5 motorway. The other roads around the town are small and run across the levels generally following the drainage ditches.
There are several infant and primary schools in Glastonbury and the surrounding villages. Secondary education for 11 - 16 year olds is provided by St Dunstan's Community School.
The ruins of the abbey are open to visitors; the abbey had a violent end during the Dissolution and the buildings were progressively destroyed as their stones were removed for use in local building work. The remains of the Abbot's Kitchen (a grade I listed building.) and the Lady Chapel are particularly well-preserved. Not far away is situated the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which includes the restored Abbey Barn. Other points of interest include St. John's Church, the Chalice Well, and the historic George and Pilgrims Inn, built to accommodate visitors to the Abbey.
The Church of St Benedict was rebuilt by Abbot Beere in about 1520. The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century.
The local football side is Glastonbury F.C.
Glastonbury,the New Glynebourne; at 72,harry Enfield's Dad Edward (Pills in Pocket) Makes His First Festival Foray
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