And did those feet in ancient times

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

There can be few Englishmen who do not know the hymn “Jerusalem” written by William Blake be they devout Christians or atheists. So popular and well known has the hymn become, it is almost like a second national anthem.

Stirring as the hymn is, sometimes the origin of the words are overlooked. One might easily initially believe from the title the hymn refers to the biblical Middle East but the words are actually entwined with the myth and legend of Somerset, England and in particular with Glastonbury. For centuries Glastonbury  has been steeped in myth. It has at times been linked to the legendary Island of Avalon of Arthurian myth and is a name the area still goes by today. There can be little doubt that in the past before the surrounding marshland of the Somerset Levels was drained, Glastonbury with its mighty abbey and distinctive towering tor would have seemed like a mystical island thrusting upwards from the surrounding watery landscape.

The Bible tells about the life of Jesus as a baby and a child and is then silent on what would have been his teen years only picking up the story again of his much later life. This apparent absence of detail of his teenage years has led to many unproven theories including the possibility he may have travelled abroad during this time. One such theory is that he may have travelled to England and in particular Glastonbury in Somerset. A story that developed during the Middle Ages was Joseph of Arimathea  who may have possible been an uncle or a councillor to Jesus, also during this time had connections with Glastonbury and that Jesus possibly accompanied him on his travels there. The myth developed further after the crucifixion to say that Joseph of Arimathea  travelled once again to Glastonbury carrying the Holy Grail which he buried on Glastonbury Tor. Although the is no real evidence to support such a theory there is a well at the foot of Glastonbury Tor which has been named the “Chalice Well”. The opening line of the hymn Jerusalem, “And did those feet in ancient time. Walk upon England’s mountains green.”, alludes to this legend.

Joseph of Arimathea  is also attributed in the legend of donating his tomb to Jesus’s body following the crucifixion and returning to England where he planted his staff in the ground at Glastonbury which miraculously took root and flowered into the tree known as the Holy Thorn. Off-shoots of a tree by that name certainly exist there and a sprig of the tree is sent to Buckingham Palace every Christmas to adorn the monarch’s dinner table.

Another phrase of the hymn Jerusalem refers to the “Dark Satanic Mills” and this is thought to refer to the author William Blake’s experiences of the early Industrial Revolution with it’s newly created dreadful working and housing conditions.

Are any of these stories true? There is no known evidence to support them but by the same token, there is also no known evidence to disprove them.

Whatever the truth, the unwritten tales of Jesus’s teenage years entwined with the Arthurian legend certainly attracts those in search of the spiritual and mystical plane to Glastonbury every year.

So the next time you either hear or sing the hymn Jerusalem, perhaps you will cast a thought at the unproven myth behind the words.

January 2011


Holy Thorn Tree - Glastonbury Abbey

 Glastonbury – The Holy Thorn

It’s strange how a news making event can have sudden unforeseen effects elsewhere. In this particular case it was an act of vandalism where one of the Holy Thorn Trees of Glastonbury was hacked down one night in December.

The Glastonbury Thorn is associated with the legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the arrival of Christianity in Britain. The legend suggests that Joseph of Arimathea who is mentioned in all four gospels, visited Glastonbury with the Holy Grail. The legend continues that he thrust his staff into the ground at Wearyall Hill which subsequently grew into a thorn tree. The tree was cut down as a superstitious relic during the English Civil War but not before several cuttings were secretly propagated and hidden around Glastonbury. One of the cuttings eventually replaced the destroyed tree on Wearyall Hill with two others being located within Glastonbury Abbey and the Church of St John. By long tradition a flowering sprig is sent to the British Monarch every Christmas to adorn the table used for their Christmas dinner.

One of my hobbies is to publicly share photographs I have taken on Google Earth. I do this by publishing them on a website known as Panoramio.com which is now owned by Google and the photographs subsequently appear on Google Earth with some also appearing on Google Maps for the world to see. I should stress that none of my photographs lay claim to be great works of art, I simply recognise that people often like to see photographs of given locations of interest. If you use Google Earth, ensure the photos box in the Layers menu is checked to see the photographs.

By chance, one of my photographs is of the Holy Thorn in Glastonbury Abbey and is one of only two submitted to Google Earth at that location. Although a statistics counter on the Panoramio website shows a slow but steady trickle of views for this photograph, a sudden sharp spike of views shows for the two days following the vandalism of this tree. To me this tends to indicate how the internet is used globally by people seeking additional information on news making events.

I do not yet know the fate of the cut down Holy Thorn tree but I do hope it will re-grow. I do however find it sad that an act of vandalism by either a mindless thug or someone with a warped grudge can destroy centuries of history in an instant.

 


 19/01/2011

Dorchester Market, Dorset

Not in Somerset this time but in our adjoining county of Dorset where we have many friends. Occasionally we like to go to the weekly market in Dorchester the County Town of Dorset. Dorchester is a small pleasant town with plenty of Roman artefacts around the place and was the home of Thomas Hardy once he became established as a prominent author. The market is a bustling place held on the site of the old cattle market. Some of the cattle stalls are used as mini-shops on market days and the cattle auction ring is used as a farmers market. A large modern wooden building houses an equally large flea market which I find a fascinating place to potter about in looking at curiosities. One of the reasons my wife and I go there is to bulk buy various bird feeds for our garden.

Once we have finished in the market, we frequently take a drive to Weymouth a short distance to the south to buy fresh fish, crabs, oysters and scallops from a fresh  fish shop located on the quayside of Weymouth Harbour. Our drive took us along the line of the old Roman Road past Maiden Castle, a huge hill fort the Romans once occupied and over the hill range with a hairpin bend down towards Weymouth. Running parallel to the main road is a new relief road being built to help ease traffic congestion. Weymouth is the designated location for sailing sports in the forthcoming 2012 Olympics.

I anticipate that the Olympics with attract a huge amount of additional traffic to Weymouth and this has raised an as yet unanswered question in my mind for some time. Anyone who knows Weymouth and its busy shopping centre will understand how difficult parking is even in the middle of winter. In the summer months the parking problem is greatly exacerbated with holiday makers staying in this popular holiday town. I cannot but help wonder where all the additional parking for traffic generated by the Olympics is going to go. I have asked this question of a number of friends who live local to the area and all give the same reply, they simply do not know. I did a quick internet search on this subject before writing this article but found there was a dearth of information o the subject.

Weymouth Harbour, Dorset

There seems to be a lot of reliance on public transport but proposed Olympic viewing locations are a reasonable distance from the railway station. I suppose some provision for parking has been made somewhere but as yet I have not found it. I certainly will not be going to watch the sailing events not because I would not like to but concern over parking plus high ticket prices are powerful deterrents. It makes me wonder why as a UK resident whose taxes have already helped finance the building of Olympic locations, that I should have to pay to stand in the same locations I stood today for free.

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