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Glastonbury Tor

Photo Michael Mathias

Glastonbury Tor, with its ruined tower of a church dedicated to St Michael, is one of the most iconic mystical locations in Britain. It reaches a height of 518 feet above sea level.  Although showing signs of human shaping it is primarily a natural product of long-term geological forces. Most of the hill is made of sandstone. It may be that within this water-bearing permeable rock is created an ongoing source for the adjacent Chalice Well although this is debatable.

It has been suggested that this combination of sandstone and its watery mineral-rich interior, in company with the shape of the hill, has an effect on human consciousness, that a spiraling energy ebbs and flows around it. Some claim to be able to feel this force on the Tor.

Many have felt that the strangely shaped hill has charisma, a personality of some kind. What was it that attracted people to Glastonbury in the past? The most fundamental thing seems to be a mysterious quality of the landscape itself. For example, the Tor can be seen from a considerable distance away. It totally dominates the visual field. As one approaches it and circles around it, a continual shape-shifting is occurring. It presents a different aspect from every vantage point. And yet, there are places in the town where the Tor cannot be seen. The view from its summit is extensive but does not include the Abbey, which is hidden by Chalice Hill, apart from the late addition of the Abbot’s Kitchen. The tower, which is clearly visible from miles away, doesn’t really seem that tall when you’re inside it.

The nearby Celtic Lake Village from where the Tor may have seemed to be an otherworld island

The early inhabitants of Britain led lives far more intimately connected to the land than most people do today. The distinctive qualities of the Glastonbury environs would suggest it was a place of the Otherworld. In those far-off times much of the area was underwater as well. The Tor and its adjoining hills would have been virtually islands. Despite subsequent draining much of the spell remains intact. The whole locale seems to participate in an endlessly shifting perspective.

St Collen as Hermit card of Glastonbury Tarot by Lisa Tenzin Dolma.

Christian material from the Dark Age period contains some tantalising hints about the place’s sanctity and the sort of beliefs surrounding it. St Collen was summoned to pay his respects to Gwyn ap Nudd, who is Lord of the Tor, King of the Faeries and ruler of the underworld known as Annwn Atop the Tor, Collen somehow enters Gwyn’s otherwordly castle where a feast is in progress and music and beauty are all around. Not being much of a party person, Collen splashes holy water everywhere and the whole scene disappears like a mirage.

GLASTONBURY TOR, Somerset. Anglo-Saxon monastic settlement. Reconstruction drawing by Judith Dobie (English Heritage Graphics Team).

The roofless tower of the church of St Michael that is so vital a part of the modern visual image of the Tor is all that remains of a small medieval monastic community. Carvings of an angel overlooking the weighing of a soul on scales and of St Bridget milking a cow can still be discerned on it. An earthquake in 1275 had destroyed an earlier building. The site seems to have been abandoned following the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the terrible judicial murder of Abbot Whiting and his associates on the summit in 1539.


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