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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.