“The tombe of Arthur in shining blacke stone was in front of ye altare. Ye can see hys size even now, an ye wis, in ye claye, and certain fragmentes that yet are for hym to seeke. Blacke and scarlet and golde was ye choire, save where they didde paint ye leaves in greene, and somme tyme browne where ye clausteres were.......The churche he was soe grete there was room enow in ye aisles and soe across ye altare in front of hym by Arthur's tombe.”
The Company of Avalon
In 1908 when the Bath and Wells Diocesan Trust acquired the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey they appointed Frederick Bligh Bond as director of excavations. At the time Bond was an architect practising in Bristol and an acknowledged authority on church architecture having overseen the restoration of a number of churches; at the time Bond must have appeared to be the ideal appointment to restore the overgrown ruins of the Abbey.
But unknown to the Church authorities at the time Bond had been a member of the Society for Psychical Research since 1902. He was also a member of the Theosophical Society and a Freemason. He used knowledge he had gleaned from these societies to unearth the ruins of the Abbey with remarkable success without the need to dig lengthy exploration trenches, unearthing chapels that showed no evidence above ground with remarkable accuracy.
Today Bond is remembered mainly for his occult practices in communications with the monks of Glaston; one of the first documented examples of psychic archaeology but a method clouded with controversy. Bond claimed to have commenced communications with the abbey monks in 1907, before he had been appointed by the Church of England.
In 1918 Bond's book 'The Gate of Remembrance' was published which revealed his excavations had been guided by psychic communications with the dead monks of the Abbey, which he termed the 'Company of Avalon'. Bond had been holding automatic writing sessions with Captain John Bartlett, aka John Alleyne, as a medium.
Bond asserts that the monks had instructed him where to dig in response to questions he asked. However, sceptics argue that Bond possessed sufficient knowledge of church architecture to have calculated the layout of the Abbey with reasonable accuracy. Perhaps.
But Bond was an Arthurian and soon after his appointment he searched for evidence of the King's black marble tomb in front of the high altar. Among Bond's earliest excavations at the Abbey, from 1908–9, a search was carried out at the east end of the Great Church. Here he found many fragments of black marble-like stone found in the vicinity of the high altar. One small fragment displayed part of arm in chain-mail & was suggested as being a relic from the tomb of Arthur. The antiquarian John Leland visited Glastonbury Abbey in the 1530's, just a few years before the Dissolution, but never mentioned any effigies in his description of King Arthur's tomb – but the monks of Glaston had. Today this artefact is exhibited in the Abbey museum among the display featuring the 12th century exhumation of King Arthur's grave.
Later Bond would turn his attention to the site of Arthur's grave south of the Lady Chapel but was dismissed by the Church of England before he could start excavations. Later Courtney Ralegh Radford, who visited Bond's excavations at Glastonbury as a child, would pick up the baton; there is evidence that Radford was influenced by Bond's earlier work at the Abbey.
Radford later referred to Bond as good an archaeologist, as good as any of his day. Bond had written up his excavation reports and published them in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological Society. His drawings were few but of exceptional quality, providing highly detailed records of stone constructions found in trenches. However, from around fifty sittings with the monks that he recorded only about half of these got in to the book The Gate of Remembrance; one gets the feeling that there must have been a lot of information from the 'Company of Avalon' that he did not pass on to his general readership.
Bond had been meticulous in his measurements of the abbey buildings, clearly the dimensions were critical. Bond claimed the Glastonbury medieval church builders had used ‘Gematria’, an ancient science using embedded mathematical formulae contained in Biblical texts. This was a continuation of the original layout of the site facilitating esoteric knowledge, the mason's code, used in the construction of the Old Church. Today it is recognised that ancient sites such as the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge show evidence of the use of Gematria in their design, but Bond, with his theories of sacred geometry and psychic archaeology, was a hundred years too early to be acceptable, if ever, to the Church. It seemed their relationship was destined to come to an inevitable conclusion.
Bond had presented this information at lecture on the measures of the Lady Chapel in 1916, which he must have realised would disturb the Dean of Wells, Armitage Robinson, listening in the audience and not be well received by the Church. It is not certain when Bond first learnt of Gematria; it may have been the monks of Glastonbury who introduced him to the subject, yet a year before the publication of The Gate of Remembrance, Bond and Thomas Simcox Lea completed a new book entitled 'Gematria: A preliminary investigation of the cabala contained in the Coptic Gnostic books and of a similar gematriain the Greek text of the New Testament'.
A sitting in August 1917 the Company of Avalon make clear reference to the subject:
“That which the brethren of old handed down to us, we followed, ever building on their plann. As we have said, our Abbey was a message in ye stones. In ye foundations and ye distances be a mystery—the mystery of our Faith, which ye have forgotten and we also in ye latter days.
“All ye measures were marked plaine on ye slabbes in Mary's Chappel, and ye have destroyed them. So it was recorded, as they who builded and they who came after knew aforehand where they should build....... In ye floor of ye Mary Chappel was ye Zodiac, that all might see and understand the mystery...... Braineton, he didde much, for he was Geomancer to ye Abbey of old tyme.”
|The 74ft grid|
Bond was convinced that Glastonbury Abbey had been laid out to a geometric pattern of 74ft squares (37 x 2) and argued that there had been no divergence from the symmetry of these squares over the centuries right up to the time of the last Abbot (Whiting), as the last construction, the Edgar Chapel, conforms to this pattern.
Bond observed that the outer measurement of the total length of the Great Church from St. Mary's Chapel, is 592 feet (8 x 74) with the width of the Nave and Quire being one square each. However, this measurement only works if the Edgar Chapel, at the east end of the church complex, is extended into a (polygonal) apse as Bond claimed, rather than finishing in a straight wall. Bond published this in his plan of the chapel in 1909. Two years later a previously unknown 18th century manuscript from the collection of Colonel Wm Long of Clevedon, came to light and was found to show the two inclined wall-sections of the apse. The dimensions given, 87 feet by 49 feet, in the Wm Long manuscript only work as an internal measure if the apse is included, thus substantiating Bond's claim.
|The Edgar Chapel showing polygonal apse|
The Key to the Temple
Of all the Abbey buildings, the Lady Chapel, said to be built on the site of the Old Church (vetusta ecclesia), is the most intriguing and mysterious. On the resumption of excavations after the War this is where Bond now turned his attention in his search for King Arthur's grave.
The early 12th century Chronicler William of Malmesbury was invited to record the history of the Abbey around 1125, and wrote, “This church, then, is certainly the oldest I know in England, and from this circumstance derives its name (vetusta ecclesia).... In the pavement may be seen on every side stones designedly inlaid in triangles and squares, and figured with lead, under which, if I believe some sacred enigma to be contained, I do no injustice to religion.” This would appear to be a direct reference to the markings on the floor of the Mary Chapel as communicated to Bond by the Company of Avalon, as noted above.
Bond found that the Lady Chapel, and it follows the preceding vetusta ecclesia, was laid out to a geometric pattern known as the vesica piscis, the intersection of two interlocking circles, each centred on the perimeter of the other, the ratio of the width of the vesica to its height is the square root of 3.
The pointed oval figure of the vesica was symbolic of the union of Heaven and Earth in the body of Christ and used to enclose depictions of the Virgin, being used in the layout of many Gothic cathedrals. An example of a vesica pisces, intersected by St Michael's sword, can be seen in the cover of the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, designed by Bond of course.
|Chalice Well, cover designed by Bligh Bond|
In 1921 Bond uncovered the remains of the so-called 'St David's Pillar', north of the Lady Chapel. This pillar was set up in the late 15th century, probably replacing something older said to mark the eastern extremity of the Old Church. Attached to the pillar was a brass plaque, found among the abbey ruins but now lost, which gave the dimensions of the Old Church as such:
“And lest the site or size of the earlier church should come to be forgotten because of such additions, he [St David] erected this column on a line drawn southwards through the two eastern angles of the same church, and cutting it off from the aforesaid chancel. And its length was 60ft westward from that line, its breadth was truly 26ft; the distance from the centre of this pillar from the midpoint between the aforesaid angles, 48ft.”
|St David's Pillar (1921)|
In plan Bond constructed a hexagon within a circle enclosing the Lady Chapel and, using sacred geometry, determined that St David's Pillar was set at one of the six points of a hexagram. It followed that William of Malmesbury's pyramids and therefore the site of King Arthur's grave would lie on the same circle that enclosed this hexagram to the south side of the Lady Chapel.
|The Geometry of the Lady Chapel|
Yet Bond had never claimed to be communicating with the dead monks of Glastonbury, he considered he had tapped into a collective memory. However, such methods were totally unacceptable to Bond's paymaster, the Church of England, and he was effectively banished from the Abbey. He left Britain for America in 1926 to work for the American Society for Psychical Research.
Following Bond's dismissal any physical evidence for the apse at the end of the Edgar Chapel was obliterated, and, like much of his controversial work, covered over by the Church authorities. We would have to wait another 40 years before the archaeologist's trowel would turn the earth south of the Lady Chapel in search of Arthur's grave.
Copyright © 2018 Edward Watson
Frederick Bligh Bond, F.R.I.B.A.,The Gate of Remembrance: The Story Of The Psychological. Experiment Which Resulted In The Discovery Of The Edgar Chapel At Glastonbury. With A Record Of The Finding Of The Loretto Chapel In 1919. Third Edition, Marshall Jones, 1920.
Stephan A. Schwartz, The Secret Vaults of Time: Psychic Archeology and the Quest for Man's Beginnings. First published 1978, this edition Hampton Roads, 2001.
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