Interpreting King Arthur at Glastonbury Abbey #2

Ralegh Radford discusses plans to excavate Arthur’s Grave

Here’s a little more about the ‘Foosteps of Arthur’ event at Glastonbury Abbey last Friday. Just to recap, in 1191 the monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the bones of Arthur and Guinevere in the monks’ cemetry and displayed them in a large black marble tomb.

Dr. Cheryl Allum, the Project Officer for the AHRC funded Glastonbury Abbey Excavation Archive Project talked about the archaeological evidence for the 1191 exhumation. Some people may be disappointed to hear that a lot of the archaeological evidence doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but on the plus side lots of interesting Dark Age/ Post-Roman evidence has been identified during the recent project, for example the identification of Dark Age amphora sherds.

Many of the other speakers highlighted that Arthur is a slippery yet compelling symbolic resource. Prof. Elizabeth Archibald discussed choices made by authors of modern Arthurian fiction, and unintentionally added significantly to everybody’s reading lists. Prof. Ad Putter gave us the opportunity to listen to some Middle English and examined the role of local landscape in these texts. Johnny McFadyen talked about Norman appropriation of Arthur, something which may have had a big role to play at Glastonbury in 1191.

The main event for many attendees was the Q&A with Geoffrey Ashe, the man who put Glastonbury on the map with his book King Arthur’s Avalon. I interviewed Geoffrey and Patricia Ashe as part of my PhD and it’s fascinating to hear them talk in person about Glastonbury and Arthur. Prof. Ronald Hutton’s paper ‘The Historical Arthur’ paid homage to Geoffrey Ashe, who is currently celebrating his 90th year, and discussed Ashe’s place in the 20th century hunt for a historical Arthur.

Kudos to the team at the Abbey, especially the Education Officer Julie Hayes for setting up this ‘Arthurian’ dream team of speakers (I exclude myself from that category although the paper went very well in case you were wondering). It’s been a pleasure working with the Abbey and this day was another example of their commitment to combining solid academic research with public engagement. I have decided to honour them with this fitting, but slightly less than flattering, photograph taken in the George and Pilgrim at the end of the day.

An unintentionally Arthurian themed celebration in the George and Pilgrim pub