The ruins of this former great abbey are set in 36 acres of parkland with duck and fish ponds. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 Glastonbury was neglected, decayed, and then used as a source of stone for the town’s various buildings. The ruins on view today are not of the original abbey which was burned in a fire in 1184, but of the rebuilding in the Gothic style. The existing ruins of the Lady Chapel was the first section to be rebuilt. In 1213 the new church was ready for use.
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The abbey consisted of the usual monastery buildings: an abbot’s kitchen (part of a 14th century rebuilding and still roofed), abbot’s hall, abbot’s house, monks’ kitchen; chapter house, dormitories, and the church with its nave, north and south transepts, choir, and cloister.
An earlier church existed here since before the 7th century. A stone church was erected when the Saxons conquered the area. The church was enlarged several times as the monastery grew. By the Norman conquest the abbey had grown and become wealthy. By 1086 it was the richest abbey in England. By the 14th century its wealth had been surpassed by that of Westminster Abbey.
After the Normans takeover of the abbey buildings and its church, they were enlarged several times during the ensuing decades in different styles. The church had three bays at the back of the high altar. The transepts had two chapels on each side. One was dedicated to St Thomas Becket. The western porch was added in the 14th century. The 14th century gate still survives. A crypt was added around 1500. For a detailed time line visit the Glastonbury website.
Many fanciful and unproved legends are related to the abbey. Some are in the “cult” style. The monks spread these legends in order to increase the number of pilgrims coming to the abbey and thus the abbey coffers.
Magdalene Street, Glastonbury, Somerset
Tel. 0 1458 832 267
Open: daily, last entry ½ hour before closing; Nov-Feb, 9am-4pm; March-May, Sep, Oct, 9am-6pm; June-Aug, 9am-8pm
Shop; picnic area; ponds; special events; costumed guides in summer; city pay car park beside abbey
Web: Glastonbury Abbey
Web: Glastonbury Visitor Information Centre
Web: Glastonbury Town Council
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard