Saturday 28 May 2022

The Story of Glastonbury - Dom Aelred Watkin O.S.B. - CTS Histories

The Story of Glastonbury 
Dom Aelred Watkin O.S.B. 
ISBN 9780851835068
ISBN 0851835066
CTS Booklet H444

Over the last several years, I have read over 275 volumes from the CTS. I have read books from many series, and many authors. I have read several books that are part of the CTS Devotions and Prayer Series. I have read many in the CTS Biographies including biographies from the Saints of the Isles Series, and the Great Saints Series. This is the first book by Dom Aelred Watkin O.S.B. that I have read. This volume predates the CTS Concise Histories Series that I have been enjoying and also the Christian Shrines Series of which I greatly enjoyed Glastonbury - A Pilgrim's Companion by David Baldwin. The edition of this booklet I tracked down was from 1973, I found reference while researching the book of editions as early as 1966, and as late at 1983. The edition I tracked down did not even have a description on the back, but only and advertisement for a CTS Paperback Bible for 60p. I was not able to find a description of the booklet anywhere online. The text has reference of dates up to and including 1965. And it is a fascinating little read.
The preface by Joseph Bishop of Clifton states:

“Glastonbury is one of the earliest centres of the Catholic Church in this country. It is also by tradition one of the earliest places where special devotion was given to Our Lady. But perhaps more than most places, the history of the Church in Glastonbury, and particularly of the origin of the shrine of Our Lady, is overladen with legend. No true devotion ought or can be built except on the truth. It is therefore highly important, in speaking of Glastonbury, to be quite clear and explicit on the reliability of and authority for all statements made.

This small account of the Catholic history of Glastonbury is meticulous in this matter. At the same time it gives proper weight to tradition and even to legend.

It seems beyond reasonable doubt that in days gone by Glastonbury was noted for an intense devotion to Our Blessed Mother. May this short history be a powerful help towards the reviving of that ancient devotion.”

The chapters and sections in the booklet are:

The Story of Glastonbury
     The Situation at Glastonbury
     The Town of Glastonbury
     Earliest History
     The Early Monastery at Glastonbury
     The Saxon Monastery of Glastonbury
A Full Page Map of Glastonbury Abbey
     Glastonbury in the days of the Normans and Angevins
     Glastonbury in the Middle Ages
Diagram of Glastonbury Abbey
     The End of Glastonbury
     The years of Desolation
     Our Lady of Glastonbury
     Our Lady’s Return

I highlighted several passages my first time through this work. They were:

“Glastonbury can easily be recognized from afar. From miles away in every direction the eye is caught by a high, conical hill topped by a ruined tower. This is Glastonbury Tor with the remains of its fourteenth-century chapel of St Michael the Archangel. The town itself and the abbey lie at the foot of the complex of hills of which the Tor is the chief, and it is surrounded by an immense tract of flat land intersected with artificial drainage ditches (known as rhines) which are lined by pollarded willows.”

“The story of Glastonbury reaches back into a past so remote that it is impossible for us to say what its origins were or when it began. Legends have sprung up at various dates and times which try to illuminate this darkness, but these stories may rather be likened to ivy which, while obscuring the outline of an ancient building, testifies to the reality of its structure. It is perhaps significant that the greater bulk of these legends take their origin in the later part of the Middle Ages and that one or two of the most startling date from after the dissolution of the abbey.”

“We can say, therefore, that from about the fifth century onwards there was a large Celtic monastery on the site of the later abbey. The names of one or two of the early abbots are known and the Welsh Triads speak of a ‘perpetual choir’ of singers at Glastonbury, while a visit of St David of Wales to the spot is better authenticated than some of the early stories.”

“It is impossible to go into the history of ‘King Arthur’ and the stories which connect him with Glastonbury, but it seems very probable that this ancient leader did exist and there is evidence which could show that he was in fact buried in the ancient cemetery at Glastonbury.”

“In some ways more mysterious still is the tradition which connects St Patrick with Glastonbury. The fact that the Irish, from at least the eighth century onwards, believed him to have been buried here is quite certain.” 

“Whether the Irish saint buried at Glastonbury was the great apostle of Ireland or whether he was another of the same name it does not as yet seem possible to discover. That Glastonbury was a holy spot to the Irish at a very early date is
abundantly clear.”

“It was from Glastonbury that St Dunstan and his followers reformed the monasteries throughout the country. Indeed, Glastonbury may well be termed the mother-house of almost every medieval monastery in England, for all the ancient foundations were renewed and revived under the direction of St Dunstan and of the monks he had trained.”

“During the following years the abbey buildings changed hands again and again. Slowly, vaults, walls and towers disappeared, although the inhabitants of Glastonbury to their credit retained such a reverence for the Lady Chapel that none could be found to take part in its demolition and it is thus the most complete part of the ruins yet remaining.”

“It is impossible to say at what date the Wattle Church became known as the Church of Our Lady. It is certain that it was so known in the eighth century and we may say with confidence that Glastonbury was one of the earliest shrines of Our Lady to exist north of the Alps.”

“It is interesting in this connexion to note that Glastonbury was one of the few places in England to develop a devotion to St Joseph before the Reformation; there exists in a Glastonbury manuscript a hymn written about the year 1500 in which St Joseph is honoured together with his namesake of Arimathea.”

“There is evidence that even in the darkest years of persecution some recusant Catholics used to gather round the ruin of the Lady Chapel to pray and the memory of the shrine never quite wholly perished. But it is during the last seventy years that
Catholicism has begun to return to Glastonbury. Towards the end of the last century the Fathers of the Sacred Heart established a novitiate in a house at the foot of the Tor.”

“The 20th July 1955 was a great day in the history of Glastonbury, for it was then that the Apostolic Delegate (Archbishop O’Hara) by blessing and enthroning a new statue of Our Lady of Glastonbury in the presence of Bishop Rudderham of Clifton and of no less than 18,000 Catholics, restored in the name of the Holy See the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury. Since then pilgrimages have multiplied and in the year 1958, when special indulgences were granted, the pilgrims came literally in their thousands.”

“The revival has been more than remarkable and we may hope that in God’s own time we may see the shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury once more, as of old, the centre of a Catholic England.”

This booklet was a fascinating read. It is very concise and yet it provides a lot of information. When you combine it with Glastonbury - A Pilgrim's Companion by David Baldwin and even the historical fiction novels the Glaston Tor Series by Donal Anthony Foley it makes for intriguing history, wonderful faith, and continued witness. I am thankful I was able to track this little volume down and add the knowledge within to my growing understanding of Catholicism in England, over the ages.

An excellent little volume from the CTS. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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