Glastonbury – steeped in history and mystery, is traditionally the burial site of the romano-british ‘King’ Arthur (539 ?) and his wife Guinevere. Also buried here are Edmund I (939-946); Edgar (959-975); and Edmund ii (April to November 1016).
A model provides a view of what the Abbey might have looked like in 1539 and can be viewed through this link. Below left: as it is today.
Above left: The Crypt, and right: the remains of the west end.
The core of Glastonbury’s first monastery was the ancient cemetery which had grown around the old church of St Mary south of where the Lady Chapel stands today. Very early graves are packed together and one is believed to be that of King Arthur, who almost certainly existed but not in the stylised way he has been portrayed down the ages.
An early legend has it that his wife, Guinevere, was kidnapped by Melwas, King of ‘Summer Land’ (Somerset), imprisoned in his castle on The Tor and rescued by Arthur and his army. Perhaps it was inevitable that the Knights of the Round Table should spring from that.
However, even when stripped of all the mythology there clearly did exist a Celtic warlord who succeeded in halting the Saxon advance. It is also confirmed that the grave the monks found in 1191 was of Celtic origin and that a few feet above the coffin they found a leaden cross with a Latin inscription claiming that the body was that of King Arthur.
At the Dissolution the shrine was despoiled and Arthur’s grave was no more. It was not until 1934 that excavations revealed the final resting place of the King which is now marked with a simple plaque.