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Glastonbury & Patmos twinned in perpetuity

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The history of Glastonbury

Our Somerset Tradition tells of the coming of Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury after the Crucifixion of Christ. Joseph was a wealthy man and he dealt in metals, as the Bible tells us. In those days tin and lead were mined from Cornwall and Somerset, two counties which still tell of the coming of Joseph in rhyme and folklore. Curiously Devon, the county that lies between Cornwall and Somerset, mined no metals and has no folk history of Joseph as a “tin man”. Saint Joseph is Glastonbury’s special Saint.

The Holy Thorn with the Tor in the backgroundAfter the Crucifixion, when the disciples fled Jerusalem, Joseph and his group of men came to England’s green and pleasant land, assured of a welcome. Tradition records that Joseph carried with him Two Cruets which held the blood and sweat of Christ.

When Joseph reached Weary All Hill and saw the majestic Tor rising ahead of him he planted his staff into the earth whereupon it took root and blossomed. To this day we call it the Holy Thorn.

Joseph was accompanied by the Apostle Philip, a Greek, and King Arviragus the local chieftain granted these holy men Twelve Hides of Land around the Tor upon which to build small homes, hermitages perhaps, and they settled here. The Holy Thorn blossoms every Easter and Christmas and the Mayor of Glastonbury cuts a flowering branch to send to the Christmas breakfast table of the reigning Monarch of England.

Joseph is said to have built the first Christian church here in this holy place, in 63AD. Built of wattle and daub it was dedicated it to Mary the Blessed Virgin. England became known as Our Lady’s Dowry, an expression still favoured by Catholics.

Plaque listing the Abbots of GlastonburyThe early saints who came to Glastonbury sound an honour roll, and Glastonbury became the largest Benedictine Abbey and Monastery in western Christendom before its desecration under the order of Henry VIII. The martyrdom of Blessed Richard Whyting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, is a testament of faith and courage. Glastonbury Tor has been a place of pilgrimage since the dawn of time, its very landscape empowering it with a quiet sense of mystery.

In antiquity Glastonbury was known as the Holy Isle of Avalon, famous, some say, for its apples. Sometimes it was known as Ynys Wytryn, the Isle of Glass. Centuries ago Glastonbury was surrounded by water and the Tor rose like an island from the mists that still hover and hide the town in certain seasons. Some centuries back the waters were drained by an ingenious network of rhynes where now willows grow and swans glide.

In 1733 Queen Anne honoured Glastonbury with two silver-gilt Mace, to be carried by Mace-bearers at all civic ceremonies but the special significance of royal favour goes back to Glastonbury’s very earliest history.

Under Roman rule the Emperor Claudius gave his daughter Venus Julia to King Arviragus in marriage. In AD46 the sister of Caradoc the Pendragon married the Roman Commander-in-Chief Paulius. She was thereafter known as Pomponia Graecina, an honour conferred in recognition of her remarkable learning in Greek. Caradoc is remembered by us as King Caratacus, famous for his dignified stand against the Romans when he was betrayed by Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes in Yorkshire. Sent to Rome as a prisoner Emperor Claudius so admired his courage that Caradoc, King of the Britons and of the Catuvellauni, was released but held there for seven years, and given every privilege according to his station. Caradoc was the son of Cymbeline, of whom Shakespeare wrote. Greeks remember Caradoc as ?a?t???? as it was he who led the British resistance against the Romans.

The crowning of Constantine - Cornish tinware circa 1900Some references hold Arviragus to be the ancestor of King Coel, Old King Cole of English nursery rhyme. His daughter Helen, a British princess, married Constantius. Helen became the mother of Emperor Constantine, founder of Constantinople and the 1100-year Byzantine Empire – the longest Empire in history. Constantine was declared Emperor in Eboracum, now York, in AD306.


The crowning of Constantine - Cornish tinware circa 1900 >

At the age of 80 Helen made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to find the True Cross. A grandson of Constantine, Ambrosius Aurelianos, was said to be related to Uther Pendragon of Cornwall. From this historical dawn we arrive at the beginning of the most famous story of all: the story of King Arthur whose legendary sword Excalibur brings us to another anomaly: the Sword of Constantine which belonged to the British Coronation Regalia for over 1000 years, was handed to the newly invested Monarch as Defender of the Faith until it was destroyed by Cromwell.

From King Arthur onwards Glastonbury’s history is more accessible. Geoffrey Ashe has devoted his life to chronicling Glastonbury’s history and legends and has honoured us with his offer to be Patron of the Twinning of Glastonbury and Patmos.

Prince Charles makes regular trips to Mount Athos where he is well known to the monks for his deep concern for the preservation of their sacred icons, frescoes and architecture. The association between England and Greece has a long precedent.