Hic Jacet Arthur 14

Arthur rampant on Glastonbury Tor (Andruss)

In 1190 a major fire destroyed a large part of Glastonbury Abbey. During the restoration, monks claimed to have discovered King Arthur’s grave in the Abbey grounds. In the grave were the bones of a giant man, some smaller bones, and a fragment of golden hair. There was also a lead cross with an inscription in Latin. According to Gerald of Wales, the medieval monkish historian who saw the cross, the words read: ‘Here lies the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon with his second wife Guinevere.’

Critics say the Abbey was in sore need of funds to complete the building work. The ability to display Arthur’s grave was a sure crowd puller in the days when the roads, such as they were, were thronged with eager pilgrims on the adventure of a lifetime and out to purge their sins… for a small cash consideration of course.

Then pilgrimage was as ubiquitous as the Spanish package tour of the 1970s, or the charabanc trips our grandparents took. Hundreds of holy shrines, great and small, littered every Christian country. Our Lady had appeared in so many places it is tempting to think she’d done more world tours than the other Madonna.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is about the stories a group of pilgrims told on the 4 day 65 mile trip from London to Canterbury to visit the tomb of Henry II’s intransigent Archbishop Thomas Becket murdered by knights for taking Pope’s side over the King.

King Arthur was enjoying a revival since Geoffrey of Monmouth had published his best-selling ‘History of British Kings’ (Historia Regum Britanniae) half a century before in 1132. Geoffrey had devoted 2 whole two sections to Arthur’s reign. Although the story was not exactly the one we know.

In Geoffrey’s version, Arthur battles the Saxons into submission, subjugates Scotland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and France. While battling the Romans, he is called home to fight his nephew Mordred, who usurped the throne in his absence. He is wounded at Camlann and taken to Avalon.

Geoffrey probably took Camlann from the 9th century chronical ‘History of the Britons’ (traditionally attributed to the monk Nennius) which records Camlann as the battle where Arthur and Mordred fell – although it does not say they were enemies or even related.

Geoffrey has no Camelot, Grail Quest, Round Table or Launcelot for Guinevere to have an affair with. There is not even a Guinevere, Geoffrey calls Arthur’s wife Ganhumara. All these would to come later.

The reason why the monks found Arthur’s grave rather the Holy Grail or the phials of Jesus’ sweat and blood was because no one had thought of it yet. These relics did not become part of the legend of Glastonbury Abbey for another century.

The Holy Grail is not mentioned until Chrétien de Troyes’ last unfinished Arthurian Romance Perceval, le Conte du Graal (the History of the Grail), still being written when Arthur’s tomb was discovered. Chrétien does not say the Grail is the cup used at the last supper or to catch Christ’s blood or brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea. These were all later additions. But he did invent the legend of the affair between Launcelot and Guinevere.

Contemporaries accused Geoffrey of Monmouth making up his entire ‘History of British Kings’. He protested, claiming he copied everything from an ancient book in the British language. But the book was never forthcoming. Because Geoffrey’s own book was such a run-away success, it is unlikely his source would not have come to light if it existed.

Gerald of Wales, Geoffrey’s contemporary, must have the last word on what his fellow clerics thought of Geoffrey’s ‘History of British Kings’. Recounting a story of a man possessed by demons he says…

‘If the Gospel of St John was placed on his bosom, the demons immediately vanished; but when ‘The History of British Kings’ was substituted, they reappeared in greater numbers, and remained a longer time than usual.’

Modern historians point out there was no tradition linking Arthur to Glastonbury before Geoffrey, otherwise it would have been mentioned by the much more reliable medieval historian William of Malmsbury – a fan of both Arthur and Glastonbury. Only a few years before William had written in his ‘Deeds of the English Kings’… ‘Arthur’s grave is nowhere seen, whence antiquity of fables still claim he will return.’ He would have surely mentioned any tradition claiming Arthur was buried at Glastonbury.

The relics of the bones, coffin and the lead crucifix no longer exist, but an engraving of the cross from 1607 does. However it is a different cross to the one Gerald of Wales saw in the early 1200s. Its inscription is different. It makes no mention of Guinevere, instead reading…

Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arturius in insula Avalonia

Here lies entombed the renowned King Arthur in the island of Avalon

14 thoughts on “Hic Jacet Arthur

  1. Reply dgkaye Jul 12,2017 2:14 pm

    Fascinating as always Paul. Thank you. 🙂

    • Reply Paul Jul 16,2017 1:51 am

      Dear Debby, apologies for the later response; it’s been one of those weeks! But my pleasure as always. And thank you for your interest and support

  2. Reply patriciaruthsusan Jul 12,2017 1:01 pm

    The story we see today might be partly myth, but it makes an interesting story. It’s probably much more interesting than the truth. Entertaining post, Paul.

    • Reply Paul Jul 16,2017 1:53 am

      Susan, My apologies for the later response; it’s been one of those weeks! that is very true. I think what we remember from history is always the story. Probably we identify more with a gripping tale… at least as authors lets hope people do!

  3. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – Writer in Residence – Hic Jacet Arthur by Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

    • Reply Paul Jul 16,2017 1:55 am

      Dear Sally apologies for the later response; it’s been one of those weeks! You know what it’s like! Thank you as always Love PX

  4. Reply Robbie Cheadle Jul 11,2017 6:40 pm

    Some very interesting information here, Paul. I love the story of Arthur although the version I have does include Guinevere and the knights of the round table.

    • Reply Paul Jul 16,2017 1:57 am

      Hi Robbie apologies for the later response; it’s been one of those weeks! The old myths and legends are so enchanting but sadly the more firmly we try to grasp them the more they seem to slip through out fingers like so much sand. Watch out for more to come on Arthur and the development of the legend

  5. Reply Shehanne Moore Jul 11,2017 9:17 am

    You do justice to this deconstruction Paul. There is nowt sells anything, books, places, films, like a good ‘legend’. As eer Arthur remains just beyond everyone’s grip.

    • Reply Paul Jul 16,2017 1:59 am

      Hi Shey, my apologies for the later response; it’s been one of those weeks! You know what I think that is still going on today. the number of times I watch an historical film to find they have built up the characters and even put a love angle in to make the dry events of history memorable. No wonder we remember the legend and forget the actual events.

  6. Reply sally cronin Jul 9,2017 7:57 pm

    Another beautifully desconstructed legent Paul…film makers would have been at a loss without the addition of Guineviere and Lancelot! However it just goes to show that even writers in the Middle Ages were aware that romance sells.. will reblog in the usual way on Friday.. Well done my friends as always.

    • Reply Paul Jul 9,2017 11:31 pm

      Dear Sally you are right even then they knew a good love story.. of better yet a love triangle… hooked in the punters. According to later legend, Launcelot missed the battle of Camlann (probably by the fact he hadn’t been invented back then). When he learned Guinevere had become a nun as Amesbury (to repent for the wrong she caused), Launcelot became a monk at Glastonbury. One night he received a dream telling him he should go to Amesbury immediately. But by the time he arrived, Guinevere was dead. He died of grief soon afterwards. And that is a haunting end to a haunting story. Thank you Sally for your friendship and support as always.

  7. Reply sue vincent Jul 9,2017 8:29 am

    I never believed in the grave of Arthur… I much prefer the legends that state he was carried from the battlefield by three queens, to pass into the mists…or that he and his knights sleep in a hollow hill awaiting the land’s need… I can believe in any of those as the symbolism is far more profound.
    Even so, I have paid my respects at that grave site in Glastonbury. If nothing else, it houses the relics of a dream that runs deep within the psyche of our land.

    • Reply Paul Jul 9,2017 11:24 pm

      Dear Sue, I think you must have read it but I will ask anyway (coz I know you are a lot younger than me). The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner (1960) is about that Arthur legend set in Alderley Edge in Cheshire- It’s magical. When I was a kid about 13 I took off one Saturday from Liverpool hitched to Manchester and got the train to Alderley Edge. Hitched back and got home about 9pm. My parents were out of their minds! But I didn’t care (selfish little bugger that I was!) The last time I read that and the sequel Moon of Gomrath as about a year ago (must have read them about 20 times…still fantastic! You are right of all the Arthurian legends that one is the best.

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