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Discovery of the Cross
Many books have been written by writers speculating on the life of ‘King Arthur’ the truth of this mystical figure may well lie in the old accounts that can still be found of historical figures like ‘Gerald’.
The medieval historian, Gerald of Wales, tells us that sometime before he died in 1189, Henry II gave a message to the monks of Glastonbury Abbey regarding the location of the grave of King Arthur. He also tells us that Henry had gotten the information from an unnamed Welsh bard. Gerald’s account goes on to say that the Glastonbury monks, presumably acting on this information, had uncovered a hollowed-out log containing two bodies, while digging between two stone pyramids standing together in the abbey cemetary. The log coffin had been buried quite deep, at around 16 feet down. A stone slab cover had been found at the seven foot level, and attached to its underside was an oddly shaped cross with a latin inscription on it, naming the occupants of the coffin as the renowned King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere. Gerald’s account is as follows:-
From “Liber de Principis instructione” c.1193
“The memory of Arthur, that most renowned King of the Britons,
will endure for ever. In his own day he was a munificent patron
of the famous Abbey at Glastonbury, giving many donations to the
monks and always supporting them strongly, and he is highly praised
in their records. More than any other place of worship in his
kingdom he loved the Church of the Blessed Mary, Mother of God,
in Glastonbury, and he fostered its interests with much greater
loving care than that of any of the others. When he went out to
fight, he had a full-length portrait of the Blessed Virgin painted
on the front of his shield, so that in the heat of battle he could
always gaze upon Her; and whenever he was about to make contact with
the enemy he would kiss Her feet with great devoutness.
In our own lifetime Arthur’s body was discovered at Glastonbury,
although the legends had always encouraged us to believe that there
was something otherworldly about his ending, that he had resisted
death and had been spirited away to some far-distant spot. The body
was hidden deep in the earth in a hollowed-out oak bole and between
two stone pyramids which had been set up long ago in the churchyard
there. They carried it into the church with every mark of honour and
buried it decently there in a marble tomb. It had been provided with
most unusual indications which were, indeed, little short of miraculous,
for beneath it, and not on top, as would be the custom nowadays, there
was a stone slab, with a leaden cross attached to its under side. I
have seen this cross myself and I have traced the lettering which
was cut into it on the side turned towards the stone, instead of being
on the outer side and immediately visible.
The inscription read as follows:
HERE IN THE ISLE OF AVALON LIES BURIED THE RENOWNED
KING ARTHUR, WITH GUINEVERE, HIS SECOND WIFE
There are many remarkable deductions to be made from this discovery.
Arthur obviously had two wives, and the second one was buried with him.
Her bones were found with those of her husband, but they were separate
from his. Two thirds of the coffin, the part towards the top end, held
the husband’s bones, and the other section, at his feet, contained those
of his wife. A tress of woman’s hair, blond, and still fresh and bright
in colour, was found in the coffin. One of the monks snatched it up and
it immediately disintegrated into dust.
There had been some indications in the Abbey records that the body would
be discovered on this spot, and another clue was provided by lettering
carved on the pyramids, but this had been almost completely erased by the
passage of the years. The holy monks and other religious had seen visions
and revelations. However, it was Henry II, King of England, who had told
the monks that, according to a story which he had heard from some old
British soothsayer, they would find Arthur’s body buried at least sixteen
feet in the ground, not in a stone coffin but in a hollowed-out oak bole.
It had been sunk as deep as that, and carefully concealed, so that it could
never be discovered by the Saxons, whom Arthur had attacked relentlessly
as long as he lived and whom, indeed, he had almost wiped out, but who
occupied the island [of Britain]after his death.
That was why the inscription, which was eventually to reveal the truth, had
been cut into the inside of the cross and turned inwards towards the stone.
For many a long year this inscription was to keep the secret of what the coffin
contained, but eventually, when time and circumstance were both opportune the
lettering revealed what it had so long concealed.
What is now known as Glastonbury used, in ancient times, to he called the
Isle of Avalon. It is virtually an island, for it is completely surrounded
by marshlands. In Welsh it is called ‘Ynys Avallon’, which means the
Island of Apples and this fruit used to grow there in great abundance.
After the Battle of Camlann, a noblewoman called Morgan, who was
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.’ The word ‘glass’ in their language means
‘vitrum’ in Latin, and bury’ means ‘castrum’ or ‘civitas’.
You must know that the bones of Arthur’s body which were discovered there
were so big that, in them, the poet’s words seem to be fulfilled:-
“All men will exclaim at the size of the bones they’ve exhumed”
(Virgil, “Georgics,” I.497)
The Abbot showed me one of the shin-bones. He held it upright on the ground
against the foot of the tallest man he could find, and it now stretched a good
three inches above the man’s knee. The skull was so large and capacious that it
seemed a veritable prodigy of nature, for the space between the eyebrows and
the eye-sockets was as broad as the palm of a man’s hand. Ten or more
wounds could clearly be seen, but they had all mended except one. This was
larger than the others and it had made an immense gash. Apparently it was this
wound which had caused Arthur’s death.”