Monday, August 29, 2016

England, 2016, Part 11: Glastonbury Abbey

After the low comedy and High Priestess that preceded BREAKFAST, it was finally time to get out and about and explore the wonders of Glastonbury, the geological and geoillogical features that have been drawing pilgrims and seekers since time immaterial.

Up in the earnest ridiculousness of Herne’s Hideaway we hoisted our gear and planned the first stop.

“Let’s go see the ruins of the Abbey,” said Admiral Karen, looking out our 3rd story window at the spire of the kitchen across the street. “Its right there.”

“Honey,” I sympathized, “Later for that. Right now its been 20 years,1 month, and 9 days since I first visited the Chalice Well, one of the two Defining Moments in my life. My EXPERIENCE there literally made me a witch and set me on the course for the second half of my life, and I have been itching to get back to the garden since the moment I woke up after being knocked unconscious by the Goddess there. I am within 3 blocks of the original Sacred Space and you want instead to go visit a friggin church that the silly christians in their infinite quite recent Wisdom decided to knock down?”

But I’ve been married now for 11 years, so instead of saying that, I said: “Sounds like a plan. Tally ho!”

All 600 feet of it. With Patriarchal structures,
size ALWAYS matters.
We crossed Magdalene-Mother-of-God-will-these-people-never-stop-sinning Street and entered Gift Shop #1, where the nice Christian lady said that a Guided Tour would be starting in the museum in the next room in just a few minutes. Good timing! Yay, Us!

GUIDED TOUR OF THE ABBEY

This would be interesting, to be out and about on the spacious grounds of the Abbey (The entire center of the 4 square blocks that make up the heart of Glastonbury is taken up by the Church Property - 34 acres in all!), and get the historical factoids and droll asides from an expert who is right there with you in the ruins. Cool!

Looking back at the entrance chapels,
the only part that has been excavated.
8 of us gathered around a model of the Abbey in its prime (1535), when it was the 2nd largest Church in England. We listened to a nice, old Christian man dressed in medieval clothes and a sword. Grandpa RenFaire (as we named him), gave us the Factual history of the first people to live on the three hills, the Monastic order that began in the 600s. 

(Hello! Subtext here. I’ll be providing a running commentary to Grandpa RenFaire’s speech, starting with the actual fact that the monks were hardly the first visitors or inhabitants of this inland island. Remains go back well into the Neolithic era.) 

Next Grandpa posited that this site was chosen for a major church because Joseph of Arimathea sailed here with the teenage Jesus and when Uncle Joe’s staff touched nearby Wearyall Hill a Holy Thorn Tree miraculously sprungeth forth. (Umm……..Bwa-Ha-ha-ha-ha! Suuuuuure. Jesus! You’d think that folks who believe that would believe that some cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh….……Oh.) 
You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Okay, deep breath, hold in the giggles, and next Grandpa RenFaire gets to the building of the building, pointing out various features on the model, when AHEM, we can SEE whats left of the real thing through the windows over there, and gee it sure is shaping up to be a nice day outside, and um, I guess not. You were saying, sir?

Grandpa was saying that the oldest part of the church was Mary’s Chapel, which was built on top of the Dark Age Lady Chapel, and then the rest of the structure consisted of this measurement and that measurement and (Hello, subtext again. 

Admiral Karen, enjoying being away from the
talky man.
Do I really need to point out the ham-handed attempt by The Church to literally squash The [Dark] Lady with their own Mary®? Probably not, but I will point out that below the Dark Age Lady Chapel was an even older relic, an unnamed hut with a thatched roof that enclosed a natural spring. But I think we all know what her name is, hmmmm….?)

Gaining momentum even as our feet were hurting from standing around this stupid model for half-an-hour, Grandpa RenFaire then launches into the Comic Relief part of his spiel, the story of how the Abbey burned down in 1184, and the little Christians were sad because nobody wanted to come spend their Faithful cash at a smoking ruin, and then miraculously, in the ashes, the monks found the graves of King Arthur AND Guinevere! How fiscally fortuitous! Everybody come back! And bring your gold! Let the rebuilding begin! He is RI$EN! The liturgical gift shop is now open for business! Halleujah!
No need to be koi

(Subtext here again. The Arthur and Gwen story is dismissed as fanciful, DUH, but the town beginning with the first monks in the 600s, and Joseph and Jesus having an Outward Bound roadtrip here in 20 A.D. is treated as just-the-facts, ma’am. Forgive them, Father.)

It's England: There's a sign
I was only paying half-attention to Grandpa RenFaire after that, and spending way more time looking longingly out the window at the Nature and the History, Just. Over. There. *Sigh. This was going to be a guided tour with no tour, like going to Disneyland and spending all day at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

I DID however catch an aside from Grandpa RunOn, about how all Cathedrals are laid out with the Lady Mary® Chapel at the butt-end of the structure, showing unequivocally that a woman’s place in Society is behind and symbolically squatted upon by the towering erections of the Guy Man Dude Males. EXCEPT GLASTONBURY ABBEY, where Mary comes first, and the rest of the Sacred Space rises elegantly and symbolically from her precedence.

Grandpa RenFaire shrugged helplessly at that oddity, Admiral Karen and grinned at each other, and the entire raison d’ĂȘtre of the town wildly waved its hands in an attempt to gain the Catholics attention.

There was more from Grandpa Paid-by-the-Word but we were looking at the nearby displays of hubris and obsequiousness. When he finally wrapped it up with a dramatic sword thrust to show how the last Abbot had been drawn and quartered on top of the Tor (Jesus! Those accusatory fingers that you point at we pagans are remarkably blood-stained, O Mighty Church®) we all clapped politely and then beat cheeks outside to actually SEE the stuff that our ears had just been talked off about.

UNGUIDED TOUR OF THE ABBEY

We ran over first to the beginning of what-is-left of the structure, the restored basement, the Lady Chapel. Lots of altars and crypts and helpful signs pointing everywhere except to this little aside at one corner that tells you that beneath this grate is a spring. Ho-Hum, move along. We stopped and paid our respects to this, the inspiration for the whole rest of this magnificent structure.
Pretty much the nicest High Altar that I've ever seen.

The ruins have a wonderful freshness about them now because the gloomy, dusty Cathedral ceiling is now open to the glorious sky and the hushed, creaky, cold floor is now a field of lush grass. The brooding, forbidding stained glass windows are now the nearby trees and ponds and the forced hush of the Nave is now a merry picnic spot. 

I wanted to roll around in this church.

The only building that Henry VIII’s goons did not knock down in his quest for a son (Patriarchy, Dude! Chill the fuck out) is the 700 year old Abbey Kitchen. This is the best preserved Medieval Kitchen in Europe, and it looks totally functional even today. Each corner of this mini-cathedral is a fireplace dedicated to a different food function, with the large center section sporting several tables where prep and finish work was undertaken. Efficient and welcoming. One could easily imagine the sweat and songs and gossip and fart jokes that accompanied the cooking here. A delight. 
The Abbey Kitchen, as seen from its
medicinal garden.

Ah, but there is another reason why I herded Admiral Karen over this way. Something that caught my groups attention 20 years ago. Outside of the back door of the kitchen, just lying by itself is a large, round rock. 

This was removed from that ‘unnamed’ thatched-roof hut by one Frederick Bligh Bond, when he excavated beneath the Lady Chapel in 1910. (Later he would be fired from his position as Church Archeologist when it was discovered that he ‘found’ many of his finds through dowsing and seances. Undeterred he joined up with the Merry Pranksters down the street at the Chalice Well, and designed the famous Well lid cover that adorns my left bicep.)

One of the four fireplaces in the rear, and darn
but those sure look like cauldrons back there.
Anyhoo, I didn’t know any of this when my friends and I came across this odd layabout when we were here back in 1996. We just knew that it held a butt-ton of energy.

So I was very interested in Karen’s reaction as we exited the kitchen……where she immediately turned to the Omphalos Stone, pointed and said in a reverent tone, “What’s THAT?” 

I explained a bit, and we had a lovely moment with it, feeling its pulsing tone, so similar to the force from the hidden spring over in the Abbey basement.

But, significantly NO SIGN accompanies this amazing object. And remember, this is England, where there is a sign for every little thing that the Nanny State wants you to remember, do or don’t do. Every tree, brick and pond koi in this place has its own sign. 

Yeah, that's just a rock. 
But this amazing glacial remnant, being from a pre-historic (read: Pre-Christian) time, like the imprisoned sacred spring over there that our ancestors obviously worshipped, like their neighbors the Chalice Well and the Mighty Tor, like the fact that The Church felt obligated to build a cathedral 600 feet long for a town that held just a few hundred souls, none of these Elephants in the Chapel can be acknowledged by such a blinkered and bitter cosmology. Move along, Faithful, nothing to feel here……

Wandering through the nearby medicinal garden got us back to our happy place, and the ponds, stands of trees, and winding walkways were lovely. There was even a designated ‘wildlife area’ - a stand of trees and brush that they had allowed to get overgrown, so that critters could thrive there. We didn’t see any badgers but we did find an awesome square of rotting pallets designated as “the Bug Palace”. Halleujah.

Medicinal Garden - lovely smells and useful
plants and herbs. These things don't change.
We headed back to the more modern buildings, including a 20 person chapel dedicated to St. Patrick. The back wall of this sports a large painting: a woman with long, free-flowing red hair who has no less than 6 long-tailed dragons emerging from her ample bosom (!) where they are busy happily devouring people who are enacting the seven deadly sins, like crying, lying down with a pig, and most disgusting of all, a man and a woman in a bed happily making love. UNCLEAN! 
Yes, its a tree. Got it. Thank you.

I can only assume that the seventh deadly sin was Mary Magdalene herself, who committed the unpardonable sin of being born a woman. The lesser, the weaker, (the unimaginably powerful), the secondary sex.

But, you know, just a cursory glance at this extraordinary painting and she sure reminds you of Brigid, right?

Mary? Brigid? Daenerys Targaryen?
We passed by a thorn tree (the original one, fathered by the thrust of Joseph’s mighty staff died years ago), and entered gift shop #2. Now recall that the only part of Grandpa’s RenFaire “Tour” that was treated as a tall tale was the Arthur and Guinevere bit. That was obviously just unfortunate marketing on the part of the Church after the Abbey burned down. Hahaha. Oops.

So guess what was for sale in gift shop #2? Roughly 75% of the items were about Arty and Gwen. Hurry hurry hurry step right up! Indulgence yourself today, and remember: 20% off all Hypocrisy until Judgment Day!

Next up: The CHALICE WELL.

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com

@AngusMcMahan

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