“The Abbey Habit”
We have enjoyed a busy and enjoyable week since our last posting from South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, near Yeovil.
Highlights so far this week have included loaning three resin, ‘table top’ display cases to the organisers of the historical display section at the 2016 Langport Festival (18th – 26th June); our team of volunteers nominated for the South Somerset Star Volunteer of the Year Award 2016 and a visit from a local business looking for historical images of a shop in Princes Street, Yeovil.
Staff and two volunteers also attended the summer gathering of the Mid Somerset Archivists and Curators Group Meeting by kind invitation of Glastonbury Abbey on Tuesday 7th June 2016.
The theme for this meeting was ‘interpretation.’
We enjoyed a varied and fun-filled day with presentations on the Abbey’s planned loan box ideas; new interpretation panels around the Abbey grounds and a guided tour from a ‘living history’ guide in period medieval costume. During our tour we met ‘Brother John’ who outlined the significance of the Abbot’s Kitchen and demonstrated the structure’s incredible resonance and ambience with three ‘hallelujahs.’ In the 14th century, as the head of the second wealthiest abbey in Britain (behind Westminster Abbey), the Abbot of Glastonbury lived in considerable splendour and wielded tremendous power. The main surviving example of this power and wealth is to be found in the Abbot’s Kitchen – part of the magnificent Abbot’s house begun by John de Breynton (1334-42).
In the afternoon, we shared an exciting, guided tour of the newly refurbished Somerset Rural Life Museum, just a short walk around the corner. This was particularly intriguing as the original entrance lobby has been removed and visitors will enter and exit through the farm-house, which was home to the Mapstone Family for a large part of the 20th Century. This underlines a much greater emphasis and focus upon the social history of the family that actually lived on site. We also understand ‘Prince’ will be returning (those who knew the Somerset Rural Life Museum will be familiar with one of its star exhibits!)
Delegates also had the opportunity to explain their latest projects under the heading of ‘interpretation.’
We were all impressed and thankful for being made so welcome and struck by the perception of the word and place ‘Glastonbury.’ Perhaps some people think of a certain festival with international connections. However, with the efforts of the Glastonbury Abbey Team, celebrating the wonderful grounds and tranquil setting, plus awaiting the opening of the Somerset Rural Life Museum set for Spring 2017, visiting Glastonbury may become more of a ‘habit.’
The Glastonbury Abbey Website provides the additional useful contextual background:
The great Norman structures were destroyed by fire in 1184 along with many of the ancient treasures. In 1191, in order to raise extra funds from pilgrims to rebuild the abbey, the monks dug to find King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. Bones from two bodies were raised from a deep grave in the cemetery on the south side of the Lady Chapel. These bones were reburied, much later, in 1278 within the Abbey Church, in a black marble tomb, in the presence of King Edward I.
Privileged pilgrims might once have stayed in the abbey itself; excavations have disclosed a special apartment at the south end of the Abbot’s house, erected for a visit from the English King, Henry VII.
In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, the social and religious upheaval took place, which became known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. There were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541, there were none. Glastonbury Abbey was one of the principal victims of this action by the King.
Gratitude to the Glastonbury Abbey Website for historical information.
Delegates from Museums and Heritage Sites across Somerset attended the Mid Somerset Archivists and Curators Group Meeting at Glastonbury Abbey on Tuesday 7th June 2016 – together with our ‘Medieval Guide!’
Some of Glastonbury Abbey’s new interpretation panels.