As I quoted on previous posts , Avalon is referenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Historia and much subsequent literature which he inspired, as the place where King Arthur is taken after fighting Mordred at the Battle of Camlann to recover from his wounds.
Welsh, Cornish and Breton tradition claimed that Arthur had never really died, but would inexorably return to lead his people against their enemies. The Historia also states that Avalon is where his sword Caliburn (Excalibur) was forged.
Geoffrey's description of the island indicates a sea voyage was needed to get there. His description of Avalon here, which is heavily indebted to the early medieval Spanish scholar Isidore of Seville (being mostly derived from the section on famous islands in Isidore's famous work Etymologiae, XIV.6.8 "Fortunatae Insulae"), shows the magical nature of the island:
- The island of apples which men call “The Fortunate Isle” (Insula Pomorum quae Fortunata uocatur) gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself; the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass. The ground of its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass, and people live there a hundred years or more. There nine sisters rule by a pleasing set of laws those who come to them from our country.
- "The name of the Isles of the Fortunate signifies that they bear all good things, as if happy and blessed in the abundance of their fruits. Serviceable by nature, they bring forth fruits of valuable forests (Sua enim aptae natura pretiosarum poma silvarum parturiunt); their hilltops are clothed with vines growing by chance; in place of grasses, there is commonly vegetable and grain. Pagan error and the songs of the secular poets have held that these islands to be Paradise because of the fecundity of the soil. Situated in the Ocean to the left of Mauretania, very near the west, they are separated by the sea flowing between them."
In medieval geographies, Isidore's Fortunate Islands were identified with the Canaries
But there are further conceptions about it's existance, like those who relate Avalon with Glanstonsbury
Connection to GlastonburyAround 1190, Avalon became associated with Glastonbury, when monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the bones of Arthur and his queen. It is in the work of Gerald of Wales we find this connection made for the first time and it clearly draws on Geoffrey:
- What is now known as Glastonbury was, in ancient times, called the Isle of Avalon. It is virtually an island, for it is completely surrounded by marshlands. In Welsh it is called Ynys Afallach, which means the Island of Apples and this fruit once grew in great abundance. After the Battle of Camlann, a noblewoman called Morgan, later the ruler and patroness of these parts as well as being a close blood-relation of King Arthur, carried him off to the island, now known as Glastonbury, so that his wounds could be cared for. Years ago the district had also been called Ynys Gutrin in Welsh, that is the Island of Glass, and from these words the invading Saxons later coined the place-name 'Glastingebury'.
Though no longer an island in the twelfth century, the high conical bulk of Glastonbury Tor had been surrounded by marsh before the surrounding fenland in the Somerset Levels was drained. In ancient times, Ponter's Ball Dyke would have guarded the only entrance to the island. The Romans eventually built another road to the island. As Gerald says, Glastonbury's earliest name in Welsh was Ineswitrin (or Ynys Witrin), the Isle of glass, a name noted by earlier historians which shows that the location was at one point seen as an island. The discovery of the burial is described by chroniclers, notably Gerald of Wales, as being just after King Henry II's reign when the new abbot of Glastonbury, Henry de Sully, commissioned a search of the abbey grounds. At a depth of 5 m (16 feet) the monks discovered a massive treetrunk coffin and a leaden cross bearing the inscription: Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia. ("Here lies renowned King Arthur in the island of Avalon"). Accounts of the exact inscription vary, with five different versions existing. The earliest is by Gerald in "Liber de Principis instructione" c.1193, and he says he saw the cross, and it read: "Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere his second wife in the isle of Avalon". Inside the coffin were two bodies, who Giraldus refers to as Arthur and "his queen"; the bones of the male body were described as being gigantic. The account of the burial by the chronicle of Margam Abbey says three bodies were found, the other being of Mordred. In 1278, the remains were reburied with great ceremony, attended by King Edward I and his queen, before the High Altar at Glastonbury Abbey, where they were the focus of pilgrimages until the Reformation.
The Glastonbury burial is tainted with the suggestion of forgery as an example of Pseudoarchaeology. Historians today generally dismiss the authenticity of the find, attributing it to a publicity stunt performed to raise funds to repair the Abbey, which was mostly burned in 1184. Long before this William of Malmesbury, a historian interested in Arthur, said in his history of England "But Arthur’s grave is nowhere seen, whence antiquity of fables still claims that he will return."As William wrote a comprehensive history of Glastonbury De antiquitae Glatoniensis ecclesie around 1130 which discussed many pious legends connected to the Abbey, but made no mention of either Arthur's grave or a connection of Glastonbury to the name Avalon, stating firmly it was previously known as Ineswitrin, this raises further suspicions concerning the burial. It is known for certain the monks later added forged passages to William's history discussing Arthurian connections. The fact that the search for the body is connected to Henry II and Edward I, both kings who fought major Welsh wars, has had scholars suggest that propaganda may have played a part as well. Gerald, a constant supporter of royal authority, in his account of the discovery clearly aims to destroy the idea of the possibility of King's Arthur's messianic return: "Many tales are told and many legends have been invented about King Arthur and his mysterious ending. In their stupidity the British [i.e. Welsh, Cornish and Bretons] people maintain that he is still alive. Now that the truth is known, I have taken the trouble to add a few more details in this present chapter. The fairy-tales have been snuffed out, and the true and indubitable facts are made known, so that what really happened must be made crystal clear to all and separated from the myths which have accumulated on the subject."
The burial discovery ensured that in later romances, histories based on them and in the popular imagination Glastonbury became increasingly identified with Avalon, an identification that continues strongly today. The later development of the legends of the Holy Grail and Joseph of Arimathea by Robert de Boron interconnected these legends with Glastonbury and with Avalon an identification which also seems to be made in Perlesvaus. The popularity of Arthurian Romance has meant this area of the Somerset Levels has today become popularly described as The Vale Of Avalon. In more recent times writers such as Dion Fortune, John Michell, Nicholas Mann and Geoffrey Ashe have formed theories based on perceived connections between Glastonbury and Celtic legends of the otherworld and Annwn in attempts to link the location firmly with Avalon, drawing on the various legends based on Glastonbury Tor as well as drawing on ideas like Earth mysteries, Ley lines and even the myth of Atlantis. Arthurian literature also continues to use Glastonbury as an important location as in The Mists of Avalon and A Glastonbury Romance. Even the fact Somerset has many apple orchards has been drawn in to support the connection. Glastonbury's connection to Avalon continues to make it a site of tourism and the area has great religious significance for Neopagans Neo-druids and as a New Age community as well as Christians. Hippy identification of Glastonbury with Avalon seen in the work of Michell and in Gandalf's Garden also helped inspire the Glastonbury Festival.
Other locations for Avalon
In medieval times suggestions for the location of Avalon ranged far beyond Glastonbury. They included on the other side of the Earth at the antipodes, Sicily and other unnamed locations in the Mediterranean. In more recent times, just like in the quest for Arthur's mythical capital Camelot, a large number of locations have been put forward as being the real 'Avalon'.
These theories include l'Île d'Aval or Daval on the coast of Brittany and Burgh by Sands in Cumberland, which was in Roman times the fort of Aballava on Hadrian's Wall near Camboglanna. According to Welsh tradition (as first recorded in the 10th century Annales Cambriae), Arthur was killed in battle at a site named Camlann which may be derived from either a Brittonic *Cambo-glanna "Crooked bank (of a river)" (compare the name of the Roman fort of Camboglanna) or *Cambo-landa "Crooked-enclosure". Geoffrey Ashe suggests an association of Avalon with the town of Avallon in Burgundy, as part of a theory connecting King Arthur to the Romano-British leader Riothamus who campaigned in that area.
There are some texts, though, that do attempt to locate the Isle of Avalon into a particular region of Britain. The Isle of Man, for example, has been presented as Avalon, as well as Bardsey Island in northern Wales as discussed on a previous post, it is located in Gwynedd, famous for its apples and also connected with Merlin and St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, near to other locations associated with the Arthurian legends have also been suggested. St Michael's Mount is an island which can be reached by a causeway at low tide.
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