Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Chalice Well at Glastonbury

Sunday 24 May 2015. We waited until the rain had died down a little and then braved the weather to walk to the Chalice Well.

On the way up towards the well we had this excellent view of Glastonbury Tor with the tower of St Michael, dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

The Chalice Well gardens are built around the well where legend has it that the Holy Grail was placed when Joseph of Arimathea brought it to England. There is of course no actual proof that there was an actual chalice at all, never mind that it was brought all the way from the Holy Land and placed here. But over the centuries the tradition grew and is linked with the legend that Joseph of Arimathea came here as a merchant. We have already seen the Glastonbury Thorn that is said to have grown miraculously from his staff. The gardens are run by a trust and there is an admission charge.

The actual well sits at the top of a garden that has been landscaped around the spring that feeds the well and cascades down the gardens via a series of cascades, falls and pools. It has to be said that it attracts some strange people (I'm not referring to anyone in the photo). The first time I visited around 30 years ago, someone was sitting in a robe running a pestle around the rim of a brass mortar that was emitting what to them was no doubt a spiritual soothing sound, but to me was totally annoying...

The water here comes from the spring and can be drunk. I ignored the glasses though and cupped my hand under the spring to taste the water. It was quite nice tasting with little of the sour metallic taste of a high mineral content, though the red colour of deposited minerals shows there is some present.

The Holy Grail has been the subject of so many legends and quests down the centuries that it is easily latched onto by the pseudo spiritual. Glastonbury abounds in hippies. I was 13 in 1967 and then hippies were people from my age up to late twenties who liked bright clothes and music and perhaps drugs, though very few people I came across ever went that way.

I grew out of wanting to be a hippy around the age of 17 or 18. By contrast it seems that today's hippies are all aged from 40 to late 60s and far from peace and light, colourful clothes and care for others, it seems now to be more about pseudo spiritualism, being as scruffy and appearing as unwashed as possible... Floaty cheesecloth has been replaced by leather jackets. Glastonbury is full of shops offering "Tibetan Sensory Massage" and anything to do with fairies and elves and that part of the town came across a little (if I can be blunt) as being up its own backside... I imagine that many of the inhabitants don't feel much affinity with this aspect of the town either, though it is well established now.

It's obviously enough of a problem for the entrance of the gardens to display a message forbidding "group rituals"... In 2006 there was a clash in the town between local pagans and an association of young catholics who threw salt in the face of pagans with shouts of "You will burn in Hell, witches!" The problems are not always caused by the pagans...

This did bring a rather ironic smile to my face though. The Healing Pool. You can paddle in it but the sign warns it is slippery and they are not responsible for any (my words) injury caused by the healing pool...

We had climbed down from the well to the final terrace of the garden. There are lots of benches to sit on and for anyone into plants and gardens it would be worth a visit for the well-landscaped presentation alone.

I have to admit I didn't feel one little bit spiritual whilst there, despite others clasping the sides of their faces and rocking about. The Holy Grail or chalice legend seems to have its origins in the Norman period, 1100-1200 years after Christ and some 650-750 years after the time of the earliest Arthurian mentions. There are many many claims for its location and more recently a totally different interpretation of its nature based on the similar sound of the Old French terms "san gréal" (holy grail) and "sang réal" (royal blood).

A lot of thought and effort have gone into the garden, its sculptures, landscaping and planting (which includes at least one cutting from the Glastonbury Thorn). The mysticism, spiritualism and just about all other manner of isms were a bit lost on me...

Links

The Chalice Well Trust: www.chalicewell.org.uk

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