Glastonbury, the ancient ‘Isle of Avalon’,
is a fascinating small town in South West England.
Glastonbury, the ‘ancient Isle of Avalon’, is a fascinating small town in South West England. One of its ancient Celtic names is Ynys Witrin, the ‘island of seeing’. It is a sacred pilgrimage place dating back at least 5,000 years to Megalithic/Bronze Age times – the banks on the Tor come from this time, together with a prehistoric mound on Windmill Hill.
Two thousand years ago it was once the site of a Druid college and perpetual choir, reputed to have been visited by Jesus when a young man, brought by Joseph of Arimathaea. After the Crucifixion, Joseph is said to have returned here, to found what later became Glastonbury Abbey.
In medieval times it was one of Europe’s greatest monastic centres, ‘England’s Holyest Earthe’, and a last vestige of the Ancient British (Celtic) church. It possessed an enormous library, attracting many of the freethinkers of the day – including natural philosophers, Templars, mendicant Arabs, Celtic saints and assorted religious refugees (such as odd Waldensians and Cathars). This library burned down in the late 1300s; a great loss.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s in Henry VIII’s time, Glastonbury Abbey lay wrecked and desolate, and the Abbey lands around Glastonbury fell largely into disuse. The town declined – its purpose had always been spiritual.
Yet the town later attracted the attentions of mystics through the centuries, such as John Dee in Elizabethan times, and the Romantics William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Then in the 1890s a cultural revival came, when creative oddbods, psychics and spiritual questers started gathering here, and throughout the 20th Century it became home to freethinkers, hippies, healers, authors, musicians and a wide spectrum of unconventional people.
Things accelerated from the 1960s onwards and, by 1980, the High Street was visibly changing and the alternative community was gaining numbers and momentum. By the end of the 1980s things were going full swing. This was helped by the famous Glastonbury rock festival (actually held at nearby Pilton), though not as much as many people believe, since the year-round activities in Glastonbury and people moving here were what truly fuelled this growth.
One of the great advantages of holding an alternative conference here is that what dowsers call ‘earth energy’ is strong and the energy created by Glastonbury’s deep heritage, geomantic centrality and alternative community atmosphere make apparently strange interests – such as those of the Symposium – seem perfectly normal!
If you haven’t been here before, it’s worth investing a full day in sampling Glastonbury when you come to the Symposium. The notable spots are the Abbey, the Chalice Well and the Tor, yet the nooks and crannies, cafes, shops, people and situations arising here make for a rich and refreshing experience. It’s not just a matter of looking around, it’s also a matter of listening within.
This is not a large town – you can easily walk around it – and its very attraction is that it’s not at all like other places.
Most accommodation is in B&Bs, with a few small hotels and a camping site. There are plenty of cafes and coffee shops. It’s the sort of place you can mosey around without making plans.
To find out more about Glastonbury, here are a few publications you can order online:
Glastonbury: Maker of Myths – a brief introductory overview
The Avalonians – about the early 20th Century in Glastonbury
Free State – Glastonbury’s alternative community 1970-2000
Map of the Ancient Landscape around Glastonbury
Glastonbury.co.uk – full town information
Isle of Avalon – atmosphere and people
Glastonbury Tor – that strange hill!
The Chalice Well – for healing and reflection
Glastonbury Abbey – “ye holyeste earthe”
Glastonbury article and photographs by Palden Jenkins
For some helpful hints about where to stay in Glastonbury, go to our Accommodation page.
Get in touch
If you would like to contact the Glastonbury Symposium, please email us using the contact form below or by emailing us directly on firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephoning us on the number in the panel at the foot of the page.