And did those feet…

We discovered St Patrick in Glastonbury!

We discovered St Patrick in Somerset!

Finola had never been to Glastonbury, so I thought a visit on our way back home to Ireland was in order. Like me, she found the town itself fascinating: every shop seems to have a ‘mystic’ theme, and even the coffee is imbued with an otherworldly aura…

Coffee time in Glastonbury

Modern Pilgrims? Coffee time in Glastonbury

Why is this Somerset town so steeped in esoterica? It attracts ‘New Age’ adherents, pagans and Christians. Perhaps because it was a place of pilgrimage centuries ago – one of the most important in Britain. The biggest surprise for us was to find a chapel there dedicated to St Patrick!

St Patrick's Chapel - one of the earliest buildings at Glastonbury

St Patrick’s Chapel – one of the earliest buildings at Glastonbury

Inside St Patrick's Chapel

Inside St Patrick’s Chapel

The chapel is in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and – like the Abbey itself – the little building has had a chequered history. It is well preserved, however, although the wall paintings and glass are from a modern renovation.

The chapel window - note St Patrick's wonderful snake!

The chapel window – note St Patrick’s wonderful snake!

Glastonbury is a place of history and of legend. The most important of these has to be the one that William Blake immortalised in his poem Jerusalem:

And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green…

‘Those feet’ are the feet of Jesus himself who – tradition insists – was brought to this site as a boy of twelve by his great-uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, a tin trader. Jesus in Britain? No wonder the Abbey was such a glorious place, and a rich and powerful one in medieval times. Even in ruins, the buildings have a presence and elegance which for me is unmatched in any of the other ancient monastic sites I have visited. With that history there couldn’t be anywhere more important outside of the Holy Land.

Back to the story – When Joseph landed on the islands that were Somerset in those days, he climbed to the top of Wearyall Hill and planted his staff there. It took root and grew into a thorn tree. Magically, that tree always flowered on Christmas Day. The original thorn has gone from the hill, but cuttings have been taken over time and they exist elsewhere: one such is within the Abbey grounds, just outside St Patrick’s Chapel. They still flower on Christmas Day, and the Queen is always sent one of the blooms.

Glastonbury's Holy Thorn, planted by Joseph of Arithamea

Glastonbury’s Holy Thorn, planted by Joseph of Arithamea

A tradition tells us that St Patrick grew weary of his work in Ireland and returned to Britain in old age. He went to Glastonbury because of its importance, and he was joined there by a band of monks who elected him their Abbot. After a few years he died and was buried in the Abbey grounds. Other important visitors here included St Brigid – who is pictured milking her cow on the wall of St Michael’s Tower on the Tor. St Brigid is also considered a Goddess – suitable for a town in which Paganism and Christianity seem to co-exist quite happily.

Typical Glastonbury shopfront

Typical Glastonbury shopfront

St Brigid - another Irish Saint in Glastonbury

St Brigid – another Irish Saint in Glastonbury

The stories go on and on: a multitude of Saints is buried around the Abbey evidently – and the Virgin Mary herself visited – with her Uncle Joseph – and (some say) is also buried there…

We musn’t forget another Glastonbury VIP – King Arthur. In the twelfth century the grave of Arthur and Guinever was found by monks when carrying out restoration works in the nave of the Abbey. This added to the notoriety – and the fortunes – of the monastic establishment…

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