What Lurks Beneath Glastonbury Abbey?

2013-Light-Darkness (1)Happy Winter Solstice! 

I’m participating in a special blog hop, Casting Light Upon the Darkness, organized by author Helen Hollick. The theme is throwing light upon something – a mystery or something little known. Thirty authors are participating, so check out the whole lineup

Without further ado, here’s my mystery for you:

Many people are familiar with the mystery of King Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury Abbey. (Was it really him or was it all a hoax?) But when I was there in June, I learned that’s not the only one. In fact, there’s one lurking right under your feet as you traverse the grounds.

The abbey has a series of tunnels leading from various points inside to places in the village or surrounding area. No one knows for sure what they were used for. The respectable answer is that they were a way for the monks to travel from place to place in inclement weather or a passageway for noble guests who didn’t want to deal with the crowds at the abbey gates. But knowing human nature, there’s a good possibility they had nefarious purposes as well.

A few of the tunnels have been verified as real and some people even still get to see them today. (Sadly, I did not.) Others are merely rumor kept alive by tradition. Here’s a list of where they are and what I and others believe they may have been used for:

  1. From the south side of the Lady Chapel to the Great Hall within the Abbey (verified) – Makes sense that this was probably a passage for the monks.
  2. Leading from the Abbey to the River Brue (some say verified, some say rumored) – Could have been used to ferry supplies, but also could have been part of a black market. This one is also thought to have been a place where monks could have met their lovers or others they wished kept out of the public eye.
  3. Leading from the Abbey to the George and Pilgrim Inn (verified) – This tunnel can still be seen the cellar of the inn. The two buildings are just across the road from one another, so it’s possible that it was used by the monks who worked in the inn to for easy access back and forth to facilitate work and prayer schedules or for easy access by pilgrims. It’s also possible that there were some clandestine dealings involved.
  4. Leading from the Abbot’s chambers to a room in the George and Pilgrim Inn (rumored) – This passage way, according to one source, led to a room that was always on reserve for the abbot, who used it for “the purging of his loins.” I’ll let you decide what that means.
  5. Leading from the Abbey to Glastonbury Tor (rumored) – This one is hotly debated. As there was a cathedral on top of the Tor during the abbey’s heyday, it’s not out of the realm of reason that the abbot could need an easy way to pass between the two. However, there is a good amount of distance separating the locations, so the reality of being able to travel that far underground is questionable at best.

Even if we never know their true purpose, they add to the mystery of an already enchanting location. There are even ghost stories associated with some of them, but that’s a topic for another day.

Personal conversations with Jamie George and Geoffrey Ashe at Glastonbury Abbey, June 2013
King Arthur’s Avalon by Geoffrey Ash
Glastonbury: Maker of Myths by Frances Howard-Gordon
British History Online: A History of the County Seat of Somerset, Vol 9: Glastonbury and Street
The Tunnels of Glastonbury

Have you heard of these mysterious tunnels? Have you seen them yourself? What do you think of them: fact or fiction? What do you think they may have been used for?

Please visit the pages of my fellow blog hop participants. You never know what surprises (or free prizes!) you might find. And, if you want to share on Twitter, please use #21DecBlogHop.

  1. Helen Hollick : A little light relief concerning those dark reviews! Plus a Giveaway Prize
  2. Prue Batten : Casting Light….
  3. Alison Morton  Shedding light on the Roman dusk! Plus a Giveaway Prize
  4. Anna Belfrage  Let there be light!
  5. Beth Elliott : Steering by the Stars. Stratford Canning in Constantinople, 1810/12
  6. Melanie Spiller : Lux Aeterna, the chant of eternal light
  7. Janet Reedman   The Winter Solstice Monuments
  8. Petrea Burchard  : Darkness – how did people of the past cope with the dark? Plus a Giveaway Prize
  9. Richard Denning The Darkest Years of the Dark Ages: what do we really know? Plus a Giveaway Prize! 
  10. Pauline Barclay  : Shedding Light on a Traditional Pie
  11. David Ebsworth : Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War
  12. David Pilling  :  Greek Fire! Plus a Giveaway Prize
  13. Debbie Young : Fear of the Dark
  14. Derek Birks  : Lies, Damned Lies and … Chronicles
  15. Mark Patton : Casting Light on Saturnalia
  16. Tim Hodkinson : Soltice@Newgrange
  17. Wendy Percival  : Ancestors in the Spotlight
  18. Judy Ridgley : Santa and his elves  Plus a Giveaway Prize
  19. Suzanne McLeod  :  The Dark of the Moon
  20. Katherine Bone   : Admiral Nelson, A Light in Dark Times
  21. Christina Courtenay : The Darkest Night of the Year
  22. Edward James  : The secret life of Christopher Columbus; Which Way to Paradise?
  23. Janis Pegrum Smith  : Into The Light – A Short Story
  24. Julian Stockwin  : Ghost Ships – Plus a Giveaway Present
  25. Manda Scott : Dark into Light – Mithras, and the older gods
  26. Pat Bracewell Anglo-Saxon Art: Splendor in the Dark
  27. Lucienne Boyce : We will have a fire – 18th Century protests against enclosure
  28. Nicole Evelina What Lurks Beneath Glastonbury Abbey? 
  29. Sky Purington  :  How the Celts Cast Light on Current American Christmas Traditions
  30. Stuart MacAllister (Sir Read A Lot) : The Darkness of Depression

18 thoughts on “What Lurks Beneath Glastonbury Abbey?

  1. So interesting. I had never heard of the tunnels before. I am sure they were used to innocent and not so innocent purposes.

  2. I’ve never seen the tunnels but you have me intrigued now. Certainly tunnels and abbeys seem to go together–there are similar rumours here in Amesbury and in Northampton where I used to live.Some of the Northampton ones were definitely real–one day part of the road collapsed into a medieval chamber below! I think they are probably a mix of hiding places from the Reformation, storage chambers, and sometimes parts of buildings that were just covered by later buildings and forgotten.

    • Thanks for stopping by Janet! The next time I’m in that part of England (which can’t come soon enough!) I’m going to try to charm my way into some of the tunnels. Wish I would have been brave enough while I was there.

  3. Tunnels add even more to the mystique of Glastonbury. Thank you for a riveting piece. Just the sort of extra information to fascinate me. But in addition, I now have an image of the abbot racing along his tunnel to his chamber and the rosy cheeked damsel waiting there for him…

  4. Glastonbury is such an evocative place – I remember standing on the top of the Tor one late afternoon and everything fell suddenly quiet exept for the sound of the wind dancing through the grass – absolutely magical!

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