Glastonbury is one of those few remaining towns in England, which seem to preserve, in spite of decay and innovation, a kind of grateful evidence of the people and the institutions from whence their former importance was derived. No one can pass through its streets without having most strongly impressed upon his mind the recollections of the famous monastery of Glastonbury, or without seeing how magnificent an establishment must have been planted here, when the very roots, centuries after its destruction, still arrest the attention at every step by their magnitude and apparently almost indestructible character. We have hardly left behind us the marshy flats that surround and nearly insulate the town (whence the old British name of the Glassy Island), and ascended the eminence upon which it stands, before we perceive that almost every other building has been either constructed, in modern times, out of stone, quarried from some architectural ruins, or is in itself a direct remain of the foundation from whence the plunder has been derived; in other words, some dependency of the monastery. The George Inn is not only one of these, but preserves its old character; it was, from the earliest times, a house of accommodation for the pilgrims and others visiting Glastonbury. As we advance we arrive at a quadrangle formed by four of the streets, and from which others pass off; in that quadrangle stand the chief remains of what was once the most magnificent monastic structure perhaps in the three countries. They consist of some fragments of the Church, and of two other structures tolerably entire, the Kitchen, and the Chapel of St. Joseph (Fig. 512). The style of the Church belongs to the transition period of the twelfth century, and is of a pure and simple character. The Kitchen is a very curious example of domestic architecture, of comparatively recent date; the following story is told of its origin:—Henry VIII. one day said to the Abbot, who had offended him, but professedly in reproof of the sensual indulgences which he appeared to believe disgraced the monastery, that he would burn the kitchen; upon which the Abbot haughtily replied that he would build such a kitchen that not all the wood in the royal forest should be sufficient to carry the threat into execution; forthwith he built the existing structure. The Chapel is a truly remarkable place on many accounts. It presents essentially the same architectural characteristics as the Church, but is much more highly enriched. It stands at the west end of the Church, with which it communicates by an ante-chapel, the whole measuring in length not less than one hundred and ten feet, by twenty-five feet in breadth. But interesting as the Chapel and all the other monastic remains stretching so far around (some sixty acres in all were included within the establishment) must be to every one, it cannot be these alone, or aught that we may infer from them, that gives to Glastonbury its absorbing interest. Strip the locality of every tradition in which real facts have but assumed the harmonious colourings of the imagination, or in which pure fictions have but still made everlasting a fact of their own, that such and such things were believed at some remote time, and are therefore scarcely less worthy of record,— strip Glastonbury of all these, and enough remains behind to render it impossible that it can ever be looked upon without the deepest feelings of gratitude and reverence. Before we look at the soberer facts, suppose we let Tradition lead us at her own “sweet will,” whithersoever she pleases. We are, then, moving onwards towards a small eminence, about half a mile to the north west, noticing on our way the numerous apple-trees scattered about, with their swelling pink buds suggesting the loveliness of the coming bloom; these trees, Tradition tells us, gave to the isle one of its old and most poetical names, Avalon, from the Saxon Avale, an apple. But we have reached the eminence in question, and are looking about us with keen curiosity, to learn, if we can, from the very aspect of the place, the origin of its curious designation—Weary-all-Hill. Here, Tradition informs us, was the spot where the first bringer of glad tidings to the British heathen, Joseph of Arimathea, sent by Philip the apostle of Gaul on that high mission, rested on his inland way from the sea-shore where he had landed, and, striking his staff into the ground, determined to found in the vicinity the first British temple for the Christian worship. Hence the name existing to this day of Weary-all-Hill, and hence that peculiar species of thorn, which, springing from St. Joseph’s budding staff, tells to a poetical belief the story of its origin, and the period of the year when Joseph arrived, in its winter or very early spring flowers (Fig. 514). The spot itself was no doubt thought too small to rear such a structure upon as was desirable, and therefore the little band of missionaries moved half a mile farther, and there commenced their labours in founding a Christian edifice for the native worshippers, who speedily flocked around them. In that early building St. Joseph himself, continues our authority, Tradition, was buried on his decease; and when, in the lapse of ages, the new faith had become prosperous and magnificent in all its outward appliances, and a new Church was erected more in harmony with the tastes, skill, and wants of the age, the site of that primeval building, and the place of Joseph’s burial, were still reverentially preserved by the erection over them of a Chapel dedicated to the Saint’s memory. And this is the Chapel of St. Joseph, within whose walls we may still wander and commune with our own thoughts, on the importance of the truths which from hence gradually extended their all-pervading influence through the length and breadth of the land. But are these traditions true?— We answer, that in their essence, we have no doubt they are strictly so. Weary-all-Hill may never have been trodden by Joseph of Arimathea’s steps; the staff certainly never budded into the goodly hawthorns that so long were the glory of the neighbourhood; but in the subsequent history of Glastonbury, we find ample corroborative evidence to show that there was some especial distinction enjoyed by the monastery, and that that distinction was the fact so poetically enshrined in the popular heart, of its having been the place where the sublime story of the Cross, and its immeasurable consequences, were first taught among us. Thus, in the most ancient charters of the monastery, we find the very significant designation assigned to it—“The fountain and origin of all religion in the realm of Britain;” thus, we find, through the earliest Saxon periods, one continued stream of illustrious persons, showering upon it wealth, privileges, honours, during life; and confiding their bodies to its care after death. What was it that brought the great Apostle of Ireland, after his successful labours, to Glastonbury, a little before the middle of the fifth century; when as yet no monastery existed, and the few religious, who performed the service of the church, burrowed, like so many wild beasts, in dens, caves, and wretched huts? What could bring such a man, in all the height of his spiritual success, to such a place? What, but the sympathy that his own exertions in Ireland naturally caused him to feel, in an extraordinary degree, for the place where similar exertions had been previously made in England? Here St. Patrick is said to have spent all the latter years of his life, and to have raised Glastonbury into a regular community. A century later exhibits another retirement to Glastonbury, which also, probably, marks the peculiar attraction that the circumstances we have described had given to it. About the year 530, David, archbishop of Menevia, with seven of his suffragans, came to Glastonbury, and enlarged the buildings by the erection of the chapel of the Holy Virgin, on the altar of which he deposited a sapphire of inestimable value. In 708, all previous exertions to increase the comfort, size, and beauty of the conventual edifice were thrown into the shade by those of Ina, King of Wessex, who rebuilt the whole from the very foundation. At that period, the alleged origin of Glastonbury seems to have been fully believed; it was on the chapel of St. Joseph that the monarch lavished his utmost care and wealth, garnishing it all over with gold and silver, filling it with a profusion of the most costly vessels, and ornaments. Still growing in magnificence, scarcely a century and a quarter had elapsed, before new works were commenced, which when finished, made Glastonbury the “pride of England, and the glory of Christendom.” A striking evidence of its pre-eminence is given in the statement that it then furnished superiors to all the religious houses in the kingdom. But when we know who was the abbot of Glastonbury at the period, we may cease to be surprised—it was Dunstan, a man whose connection with it has added even to Glastonbury’s reputation. Born almost within its precincts, his mind saturated with all its strange and beautiful legends, he formed a personal attachment to the monasł tery, long before ambition could have led him to connect its advancement with his own; in early life he received the tonsure within its walls; and when, returning for a time, disgusted with the world, or at least that portion of it, Athelstan’s court, with which he was best acquainted, he buried himself in privacy, it was in or near the Abbey of Glastonbury that he built himself a cell or hermitage with an oratory, and divided his time between devotion, and the manual service of the abbey, in the construction of crosses, vials, censers, and vestments. It is hardly necessary to state that here too he held that meeting with the Evil one, which has redounded so greatly to his fame. Those who like to study the hidden meanings that no doubt generally do exist in the most marvellous narrations that have been handed down from a remote time, may find a clue to this one, in the statement of the ’ Golden Legend,’ printed by Caxton, that the Devil came in the form of a handsome woman. From the period of the abbacy of Dunstan dates the establishment of the Benedictine monks in England, who were brought from Italy by him, and subsequently introduced into his own monastery, in spite of the clamour raised against them, in consequence of their severe discipline, which put to shame the loose and almost licentious habits of the secular clergy. He lost his abbacy, however, for a time, in consequence, and was banished during the reign of Edwy; but returned during that of his successor, Edgar, over whose mind it is well known he obtained the most absolute control. It was probably through this intimacy, that Edgar was induced to erect a palace within two miles of Glastonbury, at a most romantic situation, still known as Edgarley; and of which structure some interesting vestiges remain,—a pelican and two wolves’ heads, attached to a modern house; the last symbol referring to Edgar’s tax upon the Welsh people for the extirpation of wolves. The King was buried at Glastonbury, and, we may be sure, in the most sumptuous manner, for the monks owed much to him. What with the privileges conferred by him, and what with those previously possessed, Glastonbury was raised to the highest pitch of monastic splendour. Over that little kingdom, the isle of Avalon, the abbots were virtual sovereigns; neither king nor bishop might enter without their permission. They governed themselves in the same independent mode: the monks elected their own superior. And, although some reverses were subsequently experienced, as immediately after the Conquest, for instance, the foundation continued, down to its very destruction at the Reformation, in such magnificence, that the poor of the whole country round were twice a week relieved at its gates, and when the last abbot, Whytyng, rode forth, he was accustomed to move amidst a train of some sixscore persons. That same abbot died on the scaffold, a victim to the brutal monarch who then disgraced the throne; and a revenue exceeding 3500l. a year fell into Henry’s rapacious hands.

Such is a mere sketch of the history of the important abbey of Glastonbury; but there is yet one point connected with it, that, in the absence of all other interesting associations, would invest the precincts of Glastonbury with a thousand fascinations. Here King Arthur was buried! Arthur, that hero, whose most romantic history appears so dimly to our eyes through the mists of above thirteen centuries, that we can hardly distinguish the boundaries between the true and false. There can be no doubt, however, of that part of his history which relates to Glastonbury. He died, it is understood, at the battle of Camlan in Cornwall, in 542, and was conveyed by sea to Glastonbury, there buried, and, in process of time, the spot was altogether forgotten and lost. The way in which it was discovered harmonizes with all the rest of Arthur’s story. When Henry the Second was passing through Wales on his way to Ireland, in 1172, he delighted the Welsh with his politic compliments upon their services in his Irish expeditions. They, full of enthusiasm, wished him all the prosperity that had attended their favourite King Arthur, whose exploits were sung to him as he dined, by one of the native bards. In the song mention was made of the place of Arthur’s burial, between two pyramids in the churchyard at Glastonbury. On Henry’s return to England, he told the Abbot of the monastery what he had heard; and a search was instituted. Of this very interesting event there was fortunately eye-witness one of our chroniclers, Giraldus Cambrensis. Seven feet below the surface a huge broad stone was found, with a small thin plate of lead in the form of a corpse, and bearing, in rude letters and barbarous style, the Latin inscription: “Hic jacet Sepultus Inclytus Rex Arturius in Insula Avalonia.” Nine feet deeper, they found the object of their search, in the trunk of a tree; the remains of Arthur himself were displayed to their eyes, and by his side lay those of his wife Guinever. The bones of the king were of extraordinary size; the shin-bone, fastened against the foot of a very tall man, reached three fingers’ breadth above his knee. The skull was covered with wounds; ten distinct fractures were counted; one of great size, apparently the effect of the fatal blow. The queen’s body was strangely whole and perfect; the hair neatly platted, and of the colour of burnished gold; but when touched, it fell suddenly to dust, reminding one of the similar scene described in Mrs. Gray’s work on ’ Etruria,’ where the party beheld for a moment, on opening a tomb, one of the ancient kings of that mysterious people, raised and garbed in life-like and sovereign state, and in which, on the exposure to the fresh air, there was perceptible a kind of misty frost. The next moment all was lost, in the dust of the ground upon which they gazed with so much astonishment. This discovery appears to have excited so deep and permanent an interest, that Edward the First could not be contented without seeing the remains himself; so he came hither with his beloved Queen Eleanor; and the ceremony of exhumation was very solemnly performed. The skulls were then set up in the Treasury, to remain there; the rest of the bodies were returned to their places of deposit, Edward inclosing an inscription recording the circumstances. The stately monument erected over Arthur and Guinever was destroyed at the Reformation, and with it disappeared all traces of the contents.

We conclude with the following spirited lines from Drayton:—

“O three times famous isle, where is that place that might

Be with thyself compar’d for glory and delight,

Whilst Glastonbury stood? exalted to that pride

Whose monastery seem’d all other to deride:

Oh! who thy ruin sees whom wonder doth not fill

With our great fathers’ pomp, devotion, and their skill?

Thou more than mortal power (this judgment rightly weigh’d)

Then present to assist, at that foundation laid,

On whom, for this sad waste, should justice lay the crime?

Is there a power in fate, or doth it yield to time?

Or was their error such, that thou could’st not protect

Those buildings which thy hand did with their zeal erect?

To whom didst thou commit that monument to keep,

That suffereth with the dead their memory to sleep.?

When not great Arthur’s tomb, nor holy Joseph’s grave,

From sacrilege had power their sacred bones to save;

He who that God in man to his sepulchre brought,

Or he which for the faith twelve famous battles fought.

What! did so many kings do honour to that place,

For avarice at last so vilely to deface?

For reverence to that seat which had ascribed been,

Trees yet in winter bloom and bear their summer’s green.”