We live near Glastonbury, not near enough to hear the festival through open windows, but near enough to be pleased it’s a gorgeous sunny day for all the festival-goers. I’ve never been to the festival, never really wanted to, but I have been to the ton many, many times, it’s a favourite place to go.
Throughout the middle ages Glastonbury’s large abbey dominated the surrounding area, not only physically but economically too, but habitation of the small town, or the area where it grew up on the banks of the River Brue are much older than that. Some of the earliest evidence of people living in Britain has been found here, here is a famous Neolithic trackway made from withies (cut willow) and planks of cut oak called the Sweetway or Sweet Track which is at least six thousand years old. The area around the site of the town was flooded in ancient times, but marshes can provide a great form of defence as well as a larder for huntsman, fisherman and gatherers of wild plants, roots, berries, fruit, grains etc. A lake village has been found and excavated, but no doubt the whole area was dotted with such small focuses of inhabitation.
However it was the Abbey which brought Glastonbury to importance, one of the most magnificent and important in the middle ages; local people would have served and serviced the abbey, would have been employed by the Abbot, and traded and supplied the monks. Tourists, visitors and pilgrims to the holy place would have brought income into the town… until it was destroyed. It was founded in the seventh century, and its prominence is demonstrated by the fact it was the site of the coronation of Edmund Ironside in 1016. By the time of Henry VIII it had been rebuilt and was on the richest and most powerful monastic seas in Britain… Henry smashed the power of the church in the Reformation, and the abbey was rendered to ruins.
Glastonbury has always had an association with King Arthur and the Holy Grail… always, well from the Middle Ages! It was the monks of the twelfth century who seemed to have started the idea that Arthur and Guinevere were buried there, and that a thorn tree growing in the grounds was ‘The Holy Thorn’, a tree grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea which he stuck into the ground and it sprouted. Now Arthur is big business and the whole town has become a centre for New Age-ism, but what the world most probably knows the town for, is the festival!