Avalon is described by Geoffrey of Monmouth as an island where Arthur was taken after the Battle of Camlann and where he later died and was buried. Celtic people traditionally buried their dead on islands. Avalon was later identifed as Glastonbury Abbey after monks supposedly found the burials of King Arthur and Queen Guenivere there in 1190 AD.
Glastonbury is surrounded by marshland that was often covered in water so it may have looked like an island. Glastonbury Tor can be seen in the distance and, like Glastonbury Abbey, was an important pagan and later Christian site. Glastonbury was important as a spiritual place for Christians and was one of the earliest churches in England, being established by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph came to England carrying the Holy Grail. Joseph planted his staff in the ground at Glastonbury, and it took root becoming the famous Glastonbury thorn.
But did the monks find Arthur's bones in 1191? Although it is possible that Arthur was buried here, his burial might have been a fraud constructed by the monks at Glastonbury Abbey and King Henry II. Arthur's burial place is not described in local legends and William of Malmesbury wrote in 1125 that his tomb was not known. Because the grave was unknown, the Celtic Breton's, Welsh and Cornish believed that he was not dead and Arthur would return to help them overthrow the Norman kings who had conquered them. Henry II encouraged the monks at Glastonbury to look for Arthur's grave. It was to Henry's advantage to show that Arthur was indeed dead in order to deflate the rebellious Welsh.
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Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England.
The Abbey was founded in 700 AD and is said to be the resting-place of King Arthur.
Henry VIII destroyed the Abbey in 1539 after the Dissolution.
The monks claimed that this was Avalon.
A fire had destroyed the `old church' of St. Joseph along with its valuable relics. Relics were important sources of income for medieval churches as pilgrims paid to view them. Henry II and Glastonbury Abbey may have solved both of their problems by finding the burial of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere near the Lady Chapel. The monks claimed to have recovered a leaden cross above the grave that was inscribed with the words: "Here lies buried the renowed King Arthur with Guinevere his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon". The bodies were reburied in the ruins of the Cathedral but the lead cross was lost in the 18th century.
Archaeological evidence indicates that there probably was a church at Glastonbury Abbey in the early Dark Ages. There is evidence that the monks did excavate at the Abbey and possibly found burials near the Lady Chapel. These may have been royal bones, as many early English kings were buried there. Archaeolgical excavations at Glastonbury Tor indicate that the site was occupied in the 5th century AD and was probably a fortified site. One version of the legend has Guinevere being abducted to Glastonbury Tor, which was then a fortification, held by King Melwas.