GLASTONBURY, a market town and municipal borough in the Eastern parliamentary division of Somersetshire, England, on the main road from London to Exeter, 37 m. S.W. of Bath by the Somerset & Dorset railway. Pop. (1901) 4016. The town lies in the midst of orchards and water-meadows, reclaimed from the fens which encircled Glastonbury Tor, a conical height once an island, but now, with the surrounding flats, a peninsula washed on three sides by the river Brue.
The town is famous for its abbey, the ruins of which are fragmentary, and as the work of destruction has in many places descended to the very foundations it is impossible to make out the details of the plan. Of the vast range of buildings for the accommodation of the monks hardly any part remains except the abbot's kitchen, noteworthy for its octagonal interior (the exterior plan being square, with the four corners filled in with fireplaces and chimneys), the porter's lodge and the abbey barn. Considerable portions are standing of the so-called chapel of St Joseph at the west end, which has been identified with the Lady chapel, occupying the site of the earliest church. This chapel, which is the finest part of the ruins, is Transitional work of the 12th century. It measures about 66 ft. from east to west and about 36 from north to south. Below the chapel is a crypt of the 15th century inserted beneath a building which had no previous crypt. Between the chapel and the great church is an Early English building which appears to have served as a Galilee porch. The church itself was a cruciform structure with a choir, nave and transepts, and a tower surmounting the centre of intersection. From east to west the length was 410 ft. and the breadth of the nave was about 80 ft. The nave had ten bays and the choir six. Of the nave three bays of the south side are still standing, and the windows have pointed arches externally and semicircular arches internally. Two of the tower piers and a part of one arch give some indication of the grandeur of the building. The foundations of the Edgar chapel, discovered in 1908, make the whole church the longest of cathedral or monastic churches in the country. The old clock, presented to the abbey by Adam de Sodbury (1322-1335), and noteworthy as an early example of a clock striking the hours automatically with a count-wheel, was once in Wells cathedral, but is now preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Glastonbury thorn, planted, according to the legend, by Joseph of Arimathea, has been the object of considerable comment. It is said to be a distinct variety, flowering twice a year. The actual thorn visited by the pilgrims was destroyed about the Reformation time, but specimens of the same variety are still extant in various parts of the country.
The chief buildings, apart from the abbey, are the church of St John Baptist, Perpendicular in style, with a fine tower and some 15th-century monuments; St Benedict's, dating from 1493-1524; St John's hospital, founded 1246; and the George Inn, built in the time of Henry VII. or VIII. The present stone cross replaced a far finer one of great age, which had fallen into decay. The Antiquarian Museum contains an excellent collection, including remains from a prehistoric village of the marshes, discovered in 1892, and consisting of sixty mounds within a space of five acres. There is a Roman Catholic missionaries' college. In the 16th century the woollen industry was introduced by the duke of Somerset; and silk manufacture was carried on in the 18th century. Tanning and tile-making, and the manufacture of boots and sheep-skin rugs are practised. The town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area, 5000 acres.
The lake-village discovered in 1892 proves that there was a Celtic settlement about 300-200 B.C. on an island in the midst of swamps, and therefore easily defensible. British earthworks and Roman roads and relics prove later occupation. The name of Glastonbury, however, is of much later origin, being a corruption of the Saxon Glestyngabyrig. By the Britons the spot seems to have been called Ynys yr Afalon (latinized as Avallonia) or Ynysvitrin (see Avalon), and it became the local habitation of various fragments of Celtic romance. According to the legends which grew up under the care of the monks, the first church of Glastonbury was a little wattled building erected by Joseph of Arimathea as the leader of the twelve apostles sent over to Britain from Gaul by St Philip. About a hundred years later, according to the same authorities, the two missionaries, Phaganus and Deruvianus, who came to king Lucius from Pope Eleutherius, established a fraternity of anchorites on the spot, and after three hundred years more St Patrick introduced among them a regular monastic life. The British monastery founded about 601 was succeeded by a Saxon abbey built by Ine in 708. From the decadent state into which Glastonbury was brought by the Danish invasions it was recovered by Dunstan, who had been educated within its walls and was appointed its abbot about 946. The church and other buildings of his erection remained till the installation, in 1082, of the first Norman abbot, who inaugurated the new epoch by commencing a new church. His successor Herlewin (1101-1120), however, pulled it down to make way for a finer structure. Henry of Blois (1126-1172) added greatly to the extent of the monastery. In 1184 (on 25th May) the whole of the buildings were laid in ruins by fire; but Henry II. of England, in whose hands the monastery then was, entrusted his chamberlain Rudolphus with the work of restoration, and caused it to be carried out with much magnificence. The great church of which the ruins still remain was then erected. In the end of the 12th century, and on into the following, Glastonbury was distracted by a strange dispute, caused by the attempt of Savaric, the ambitious bishop of Bath, to make himself master of the abbey. The conflict was closed by the decision of Innocent III., that the abbacy should be merged in the new see of Bath and Glastonbury, and that Savaric should have a fourth of the property. On Savaric's death his successor gave up the joint bishopric and allowed the monks to elect their own abbot. From this date to the Reformation the monastery, one of the chief Benedictine abbeys in England, continued to flourish, the chief events in its history being connected with the maintenance of its claims to the possession of the bodies or tombs of King Arthur and St Dunstan. From early times through the middle ages it was a place of pilgrimage. As early at least as the beginning of the Ilth century the tradition that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury appears to have taken shape; and in the reign of Henry II., according to Giraldus Cambrensis and others, the abbot Henry de Blois, causing search to be made, discovered at the depth of 16 ft. a massive oak trunk with an inscription "Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia." After the fire of 1 184 the monks asserted that they were in possession of the remains of St Dunstan, which had been abstracted from Canterbury after the Danish sack of ion and kept in concealment ever since. The Canterbury monks naturally denied the assertion, and the contest continued for centuries. In 1508 Warham and Goldston having examined the Canterbury shrine reported that it contained all the principal bones of the saint, but the abbot of Glastonbury in reply as stoutly maintained that this was impossible. The day of such disputes was, however, drawing to a close. In 1539 the last and 60th abbot of Glastonbury, Robert Whyting, was lodged in the Tower on account of "divers and sundry treasons." "The ` account' or ` book' of his treasons. ... seems to be lost, and the nature of the charges. ... can only be a matter of speculation" (Gairdner, Cal. Pap. on Hen. VIII., xiv. ii. pref. xxxii). He was removed to Wells, where he was "arraigned and next day put to execution for robbing of Glastonbury church." The execution took place on Glastonbury Tor. His body was quartered and his head fixed on the abbey gate. A darker passage does not occur in the annals of the English Reformation than this murder of an able and high-spirited man, whose worst offence was that he defended as best he could from the hand of the spoiler the property in his charge.
In 1907, the site of the abbey with the remains of the buildings, which had been in private hands since the granting of the estate to Sir Peter Carew by Elizabeth in 1559, was bought by Mr Ernest Jardine for the purpose of transferring it to the Church of England. Bishop Kennion of Bath and Wells entered into an agreement to raise a sum of £31,000, the cost of the purchase; this was completed, and the site and buildings were formally transferred at a dedicatory service in 1909 to the Diocesan Trustees of Bath and Wells, who are to hold and manage the property according to a deed of trust. This deed provided for the appointment of an advisory council, consisting of the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Bath and Wells and four other bishops, each with power to nominate one clerical and one lay member. The council has the duty of deciding the purpose for which the property is to be used "in connexion with and for the benefit of the Church of England." To give time for further collection of funds and deliberation, the property was re-let for five years to the original purchaser.
In the 8th century Glastonbury was already a borough owned by the abbey, which continued to be overlord till the Dissolution. The abbey obtained charters in the 7th century, but the town received its first charter from Henry II., who exempted the men of Glastonbury from the jurisdiction of royal officials and freed them from certain tolls. This was confirmed by Henry III. in 1227, by Edward I. in 1278, by Edward II. in 1313 and by Henry VI. in 1447. The borough was incorporated by Anne in 1706, and the corporation was reformed by the act of 1835. In 1319 Glastonbury received a writ of summons to parliament, but made no return, and has not since been represented. A fair on the 8th of September was granted in 1127; another on the 29th of May was held under a charter of 1282. Fairs known as Tarr fair and Michaelmas fair are now held on the second Mondays in September and October and are chiefly important for the sale of horses and cattle. The market day every other Monday is noted for the sale of cheese. Glastonbury owed its medieval importance to its connexion with the abbey. At the Dissolution the introduction of woollen manufacture checked the decay of the town. The cloth trade flourished for a century and was replaced by silk-weaving, stocking-knitting and glovemaking, all of which have died out., See Abbot Gasquet, Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries (1906), and The Last Abbot of Glastonbury (1895 and 1908); William of Malmesbury, "De antiq. Glastoniensis ecclesiae," in Rerum Anglicarum script. vet. torn. i. (1684) (also printed by Hearne and Migne); John of Glastonbury, Chronica sive de hist. de rebus Glast., ed. by Hearne (2 vols., Oxford, 1726) Adam of Domerham, De rebus gestis Glast., ed. by Hearne (2 vols., Oxford, 1727); Hist. and Antiq. of Glast. (London, 1807); Avalonian Guide to the Town of Glastonbury (8th ed., 1839); Warner, Hist. of the Abbey and Town (Bath, 1826); Rev. F. Warre, "Glastonbury Abbey," in Proc. of Somersetshire Archaeol. and Nat. Hist. Soc., 1849; Rev. F. Warre, "Notice of Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey," ib. 1859; Rev. W. A. Jones, "On the Reputed Discovery of King Arthur's Remains at Glastonbury," ib. 1859; Rev. J. R. Green, "Dunstan at Glastonbury" and ' ` Giso and Savaric,"ib. 1863; Rev. Canon Jackson, ' ` Savaric, Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury," ib. 1862, 1863; E. A. Freeman, "King Ine," ib. 1872 and 1874; Dr W. Beattie, in Journ. of Brit. Archaeol. Ass. vol. xii., 1856; Rev. R. Willis, Architectural History of Glastonbury Abbey (1866); W. H. P. Greswell, Chapters on the Early History of Glastonbury Abbey (1909). Views and plans of the abbey building will be found in Dugdale's Monasticon (1655) Stevens's Monasticon (1720); Stukeley, Itinerarium curiosum (1724); Grose, Antiquities (1754); Carter, Ancient Architecture (1800); Storer, Antiq. and Topogr. Cabinet, ii., iv., v. (1807), &c.; Britton's Architectural Antiquities, iv. (1813); Vetusta monumenta, iv. (1815); and New Monasticon, i. (1817).
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