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Glastonbury Abbey lies at the south-east of the
junction of Magdalene Street and the High Street in the centre of Glastonbury.
The abbey was founded in the early seventh century by the Dumnonian British,
but the Saxons of Wessex conquered the territory in 658. Earlier Saxon
settlers in the area were known as the Somersaete (Somer settlers), and
they inherited the abbey. King Ine of Wessex erected a stone church here,
and its base forms the west end of the nave.
This church was enlarged in the tenth century, while
the arrival of the Normans in 1066 contributed a great deal of magnificent
building work to the abbey, which was added to the east of the old church,
away from the ancient cemetery. By 1086 it was the richest monastery in the
country. The great Norman structures were consumed by fire in 1184 so to
raise funds, in 1191 the monks claimed they had found the bodies of King
Arthur and Guinevere buried under the abbey.
The monks reconsecrated the Great Church in 1213, probably
before it was fully completed. As the head of the second wealthiest abbey in
Britain (after Westminster Abbey), the powerful abbot lived in considerable
splendour. The Dissolution visited the abbey in 1539, stripping it of its
riches, whilst the abbot was hanged for resisting. By 1600 the abbey was in
ruins, many of its stones probably taken for local buildings. The Church of
England purchased the ruins in 1908.
The Church of St Michael lies at the top of Glastonbury
Tor, immediately east of the town. The Tor is rich in legend, being linked with
'King' Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea, and possibly it served as a site of ritual
for centuries before them. Until about the first century the sea washed up against
the foot of the Tor, and even by the fifth century the flatlands around it were
marshy and constantly prone to flooding. To the Romano-British it was known as
Ynys Witrin, the Island of Glass.
Between 900-1100 monastic cells were cut into the
rock on the summit, and these developed into St Michael's
Monastery. The church was constructed within this, but was
probably destroyed in the great earthquake of 1275. The present
church was built in the fourteenth century, and the monastery was
closely associated with Glastonbury Abbey. It fell into ruin after
the Dissolution, when the abbot of Glastonbury was hanged here, and
only the church tower survives.