Glastonbury Abbey

The first church on the site of Glastonbury Abbey may have been built at least in part by Christ himself.

The legend says that the boy Jesus travelled to Somerset with his Great Uncle Joseph of Arimathea and helped build the first church out of wattle and daub. The legend also says that after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea returned to Glastonbury bearing the cup that contained the blood of Christ, the cup that became known as the Holy Grail. Exhausted by his journey, he rested at the foot of Wearyall Hill – just below the ancient Tor and thrust his staff into the ground, by morning it had taken root leaving a strange thorn bush, the Glastonbury Thorn.

What is certain is that there has been a church on this site since at least the 7th century. The King of Wessex at the time was a man named Ine of Wessex, a local man he boosted the status and income of the abbey and erected a stone church, the base of which forms the west end of the nave.

The church was enlarged in the 10th century by the Abbot of Glastonbury St Dunstan, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 A.D.

There was much disruption to the Saxon monks and their abbey with the coming of the Normans in 1066. The Normans added magnificent buildings to the existing Saxon church, these were built to the east away from the existing ancient cemetery. In the Doomsday book of 1086 it shows Glastonbury Abbey as the richest in the country.

The Norman structures were largely destroyed by fire in 1184. The monks in need of money to rebuild the Abbey; dug to find King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, the bones of two bodies were raised from deep graves. These bones were reburied much later in 1278 within the Abbey church in a black marble tomb, in the presence of King Edward I.

The great church was re-consecrated and services began again on Christmas day 1213.

In 1536 during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII there were more than 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain, by 1541 there were none. More than 10,000 monks and nuns were dispersed and the building and all they contained seized by the Crown or sold off to lay occupiers.

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