Legends of the Tor

A view of Glastonbury Tor and St Michael's tower at it's summit

This iconic hill has been a spiritual magnet for centuries, for both Pagans and Christians. Tales have grown out of history, becoming blended and embellished leaving the truth, whatever it was, literally lost in the mists of Avalon.

Legends of the Tor

Beneath the hill, it is said, that there is a hidden cave through which you can pass in to the fairy realm of Annwn. There dwells the lord of the Celtic underworld Gwyn ab Nudd with the Cauldron of Rebirth.

Later tradition has it that here lies the Holy Grail brought here by Jesus’s uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. The Cauldron and the Grail were both the object of quests for King Arthur and his knights.

Glastonbury has a long tradition of being ‘The Isle of Avalon’ where King Arthur went after his last battle. The monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have actually found his grave in 1191.

Jesus is said to have come to Glastonbury as a boy, traveling here with Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a tin merchant and had travelled to the South-West for this valuable metal. This legend inspired William Blake to write the famous poem ‘Jerusalem’;

'And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the Holy Lamb of God 

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?'

A lonely tower

It seems odd to think that this tower has not always stood upon the tor. It is all that remains of the 14 century church of St Michael. It replaced a church destroyed by an earthquake, before that the Romans made use of this hilltop.

Though now only a tower, there are carvings that survive to give some idea of how it was decorated. One of the carvings is of St Bridget milking a cow.

During the Reformation when Glastonbury Abbey was suppressed the tower was witness to a grizzly scene. The last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Richard Whiting, was hung, drawn and quartered here along with two of his monks in 1539.

Hill of mystery

The hill rises 158m (518ft) above the surrounding flat land and rewards those on the top with a fine 360-degree view. The distinctive shape is due to a combination of the unusual geology and the artificial terraces.

The rock mysteriously causes the two nearly adjacent red and white springs below the tor to run with different waters. The origins of these seven terraces are uncertain. Were they built for growing vines or ploughing? Or did they form a sacred labyrinth for pilgrims? On your next visit why not see what you make of them?