Glastonbury is that mystical little town in Somerset where, according to legend, St Joseph of Arimathea founded the first of all Christian churches shortly after the Crucifixion. Originally a Celtic sanctuary, the spot was venerated by Saxons and Normans, and in the Middle Ages it was the site of the greatest abbey in England, with the finest collection of holy relics and a library of ancient manuscripts. Among these were charters from early kings, confirming the abbot of Glastonbury as paramount ruler within his extensive realm. Crowds of pilgrims enriched both town and abbey, especially after the twelfth century, when the monks claimed to have discovered the bones of King Arthur and his queen in their graveyard. Also enriched was the Glastonbury legend. The simple tale of St Joseph expanded to embrace all the noblest and holiest figures in early British history, and the story of Arthur’s knights and the quest for the Holy Grail unfolded within in the romantic landscape around Glastonbury. One day, says the most awesome of the legends, the Grail will be rediscovered at Glastonbury, and peace and holy happiness will then prevail.
In 1539 the abbey was dissolved by order of Henry VIII, its fabric was ruined, its monks were pensioned off, and the abbot, Richard Whiting, was hanged on the Tor, the towering hill above Glastonbury that dominates the country for fifty miles around. His alleged crime was the concealment of