Monday, 15 April 2019

Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon

Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon
Yuri Leitch
(Self published 2019)

For those expecting yet another book on the Arthurian mysteries of Glastonbury, the back cover of Yuri Leitch’s latest publication makes it quite clear; this is not a book about the historical Arthur; this is a book about the history of Arthurian Romance and its significance to Glastonbury during medieval times. Leitch asserts that “the Arthur of Glastonbury is a myth created by the Benedictine Order of Glastonbury Abbey; motivated by the fascinating intrigues of their day; this is their story”.

This may come as a shock to many who have visited the little Somerset town and, on witnessing the site of Arthur and Guinevere’s grave, been caught up in the Glastonbury legend. Anyone who has fallen into this trap can be forgiven as Glastonbury is unique for its collection of tales; Joseph of Arimathea; Patrick; Brigid; King Arthur; Richard Whiting; the Tor; Chalice Well; the Michael Line; to list just a few. Coupled with the spiritual atmosphere of the place it is very easy to be drawn in and blinded to the facts; but that said, there is something here, although perhaps we can’t quite put our finger on it; Geoffrey Ashe referred to it as “someting else”.

I think it was at Andrew Collin’s Questing Conference at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms in 2007 that I first heard Yuri Leitch argue that Glastonbury was not Avalon. He had just published his first book ‘GWYN: Ancient God of Glastonbury and Key to the Glastonbury Zodiac’ (The Temple Publications, 2007) and delivered his presentation accordingly. At lunch we noted his Arthurian murals on the walls of the George and Pilgrims Inn across the road, embellishing the traditions of the town. Now, 12 years on, he expands the argument against an Arthurian Glastonbury in his latest book ‘Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon’ (Self published 2019)

But this is not a negative book and Leitch cannot be categorised as an “Arthur assassin” as author’s Thomas Green and Nicholas Higham have been termed. Leitch clearly defines Glastonbury’s place in Arthurian Romance, perhaps the most popular part of the legend, that emerged in the 12th century.

Glastonbury’s part in the creation of the image of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and the quest for the Grail cannot be underestimated.

This a short work, the main content of the book is four chapters across 114 pages. The first chapter deals with the mysteries of St David who Leitch argues has a stronger claim to the foundation of Glastonbury than Joseph of Arimathea. The second chapter begins with discussion on Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury and critical analysis of the leaden burial cross. Leitch then reconstructs what he thinks really happened and the motive. The next chapter explores the arrival of the Grail and Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury; an event that occurred shortly after Robert de Boron wrote his account of the Grail, completing Chretien de Troyes unfinished Story of the Grail. Around this time saw the emergence of the Perlesvaus, author unknown but suspected of having been written at Glastonbury. Shortly after this, William of Malmesbury’s early 12th century text of the history of Glastonbury Abbey was altered with additions supporting the Joseph of Arimathea legend by an unknown hand, probably a monk from the Abbey.

The fourth and final chapter focuses on the Mysteries of Avallon with Leitch arguing that the real location is in the Avallonnais region of Burgundy, France. This claim has been made by Geoffrey Ashe (and developed by Marilyn Floyde) who identified the historical Arthur as the Romano-British military leader named Riothamus who was active in Gaul around 470 AD. Riothamus was betrayed by Arvandus, the Prefect of Gaul and then routed by the Goths. According to Ashe, Riothamus was last seen heading for Avallon in Burgundy and the healing sanctuary at Les Fontaines Salées.

The book is completed by seven appendices including Glastonbury’s Arthurian Timeline, The Historical Arthur, concluding with Arthur the Deity taking the overall page count to 170.

In a short End Note, Leitch calls for Glastonbury to move forward and stop repeating the same, tired old claims of its Arthurian and Arimathean traditions and explore its medieval history and its very real connections with the Angevin Empire and the stories of the Grail.

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