Happy New Year, everyone! This time of year always makes me think of Avalon. Maybe that’s because I was first introduced to it (via the Mists of Avalon) during January. Whatever the case, it took root in my imagination and has been growing there ever since.
Avalon has been part of Celtic mythology and Arthurian legend for almost as long as the legends themselves. Also known as the Isle of Apples or Isle of Glass, it’s most popularly seen as a sort of Otherworldly paradise like the Welsh Annwn or the Irish Tír na nÓg. It was said to produce abundant crops that didn’t need tending and to be a place of never ending summer (much like Camelot in the musical version). Tradition says it was inhabited by nine queens or priestesses known for their mystical and healing abilities. King Arthur is said to have been taken there (in some versions by Morgan) after receiving his mortal wound from Mordred at the battle of Camlann. Some say he never died, but sleeps there still.
But one thing no one can seem to agree on is where Avalon is located. Locations in France, Spain, Italy, the Mediterranean, the Orient, and even somewhere near the Garden of Eden have been put forth over the years. In more recent times, many writers (and a few scholars) have attempted to connect Avalon with the island of Atlantis, or at least the survivors of its great tidal wave and destruction. (I happen to like this theory, but its only just that.)
Today, popular opinion names Avalon’s real word location as Glastonbury in Somerset, England, thanks to a “grave” discovered in 1190 by a group of monks. According the legend, the grave contained the bones of two bodies, a very tall man, and a woman, whose blonde hair was in tact when the monks opened the casket. The grave marker is said to have borne the inscription, “Here lies renowned King Arthur in the island of Avalon” or “Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere his second wife in the isle of Avalon.” This discovery has long since been discredited as a hoax arranged by the monks of an abbey on the site to bring in pilgrims (and thus, revenue), but the connection remains in popular consciousness.
This is the first in a three-part series exploring the holy isle. Next week we’ll take a closer look at Glastonbury and the remarkable geographic features that have fed the continuation of its association with Avalon.
What legends associated with Avalon have you heard? Do you believe it exists? Why or why not? This is by far my favorite part of Arthurian legend, so I’m anxious to get a conversation going.