St Michael's Church, monastic remains, and other settlement remains on Glastonbury Tor
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019390
Date first listed: 24-Apr-1951
Date of most recent amendment: 06-Oct-2000
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Mendip (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: ST 51198 38597
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
The complex of settlement remains, graves, building foundations, and standing remains on Glastonbury Tor have been demonstrated by excavation to reveal a lengthy period of occupation on the Tor lasting, with possible gaps, from around the fifth or sixth centuries through to the Dissolution of 1539. The height, shape, and prominence of the Tor in an otherwise flat and once marshy landscape means that it will have attracted attention for its defensive qualities as well as being naturally attractive as a place of spiritual or religious pilgrimage. The high status nature of the pottery and metal finds of the post-Roman period found in excavation suggest the use of the site as a stronghold although an early Christian settlement cannot be ruled out. Certainly, the site supported what appears to be a monastic retreat from at least the tenth century and churches were successively built on the summit. The second medieval church has been shown to have been accompanied by contemporary buildings suggesting that a permanent presence was retained on the Tor in order to attend to pilgrims and enabling mass to be celebrated; the tower of this church, dedicated to St Michael, still stands as a landmark which may be seen from miles around. A number of surviving medieval documents serve to confirm the antiquity of the Tor as a religious centre and it is firmly woven into the ancient and literary traditions surrounding the presence of King Arthur at Glastonbury. The monument will retain important archaeological evidence for the lives and religious beliefs of the populace of the post-Roman period (a period where evidence is otherwise very scarce), the later Saxon period, and the medieval period, the signifigance of the Tor in former times as a place of worship and the relationship between this site and the nearby Glastonbury Abbey.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument on Glastonbury Tor includes part of the below ground remains of a
post-Roman occupation site dating from the sixth to the seventh centuries AD,
part of a monastic settlement probably dating from at least the tenth century,
and part of the above and below ground remains of what has been interpreted as
a medieval pilgrimage centre for the cult of St Michael. This latter complex
includes the foundations of the church of St Michael and its 14th century
standing tower which is a Listed Building Grade I. All of these remains are
located on the relatively flat summit and the south west shoulder of
Glastonbury Tor, a prominent natural conical hill with a 300m long whale-
backed ridge sloping away to the south west, just to the south east of
Glastonbury. The summit, at 158m above sea level, has commanding views over
much of the flat Somerset Levels which surround it and the Tor is
traditionally associated with the legendary Isle of Avalon, a reputed resting
place of King Arthur. Although artifact finds of earlier periods have been
made on the Tor, the earliest evidence of settlement comes from the post-Roman
period (the so-called Dark Ages). Excavation carried out in 1964-66
demonstrated the presence of the remains of timber structures, metal working
hearths, and pits, on the summit of the Tor to the north east of St Michael's
Tower. These remains, which were planned, recorded, and published, were
considered by the excavator Philip Rahtz to represent the site of a post-Roman
stronghold or settlement centred on the sixth century, but perhaps dating from
as early as the fifth century, of secular or possibly early Christian origin.
Two graves discovered in association with the earliest recorded remains were
considered to be pagan due to their north-south orientation. Post-Roman finds
recovered from the excavation were of high quality for the times and included
imported Mediterranean pottery associated with either wine or olive oil which
are indicative of a surviving trading network in the post-Roman south west;
this contrasts with what appears to be the situation in the rest of the
country. There is no evidence of continuity between the early settlement and
the complex which replaced it but continuity in some form may be considered
likely. In excavation, a number of timber buildings set on platforms cut into
the rock and including two possible monastic cells and the post-holes for
timber uprights of a possible communal building were recorded. These remains
have been interpreted as those of a monastic retreat of late Saxon origin
which lasted probably into the early Norman period. A cross base found on the
summit was believed to be Saxon in date. Although there is no direct reference
to a pre-Conquest monastery on the Tor, a 13th century document known as the
`charter of St Patrick' names two lay brothers, Arnulph and Ogmar, residing on
the Tor in former times. This suggests that in the 13th century there was a
strong tradition that there had been a monastic settlement on the Tor.
The summit of the Tor is dominated by the standing tower of the church of St
Michael. The original stone church, which may have had timber predecessors,
has extant foundations believed to date from the 12th century. This church
appears to have formed the focus of a monastic complex and this is confirmed
by a charter of 1243 which gives permission for the holding of a fair `at the
monastery of St Michael on the Tor'. The 12th century church was reportedly
destroyed by an earthquake on 11th September 1275. Rebuilding commenced
under Abbot Adam of Sodbury in the first half of the 14th century and the base
of the standing tower is believed to date from this period; it was restored in
1804 with the north east corner being entirely rebuilt. The tower, which
survives to three stories high but is unroofed, has seven canopied niches on
its western side. Five of these are vacant but one contains a statue of
St Dunstan and another, the base of a statue of St Michael. Flanking the
western doorway of the tower, are matching relief carvings, one of an angel
watching over the weighing of a soul and one of St Bridget milking her cow; a
relief carving of an eagle is set just below the string course of the upper
storey. On the east side of the tower the scar of the nave roof may be seen;
its foundation walls partly survive below ground and were recorded and left in
situ by the excavator. The exposure of the foundations showed the rebuilt
medieval stone church to have been 25m in length inclusive of the tower, and
7.5m wide. Revealed in excavation to the south west of the church were the
enclosure wall of the churchyard and beyond that the traces of a suite of
buildings of 14th to 15th century date which are interpreted as the
living quarters of a resident priest in attendance at the church, and a
possible bakehouse for the provision of food to pilgrims. If this
interpretation is correct it seems likely that pilgrims attracted to
Glastonbury Abbey would visit St Michael's on the Tor as well and that the two
establishments were almost certainly linked in some way.
All of the above ground stonework of St Michael's Church, apart from the
tower, was removed in the aftermath of the Dissolution of 1539 probably at the
same time that buildings at Glastonbury Abbey were dismantled. The last Abbott
of Glastonbury, Michael Whyting, was executed on the Tor in 1539 as part of
the political ramifications of the Dissolution and his quartered body
distributed to the four Somerset towns of Wells, Bath, Bridgwater, and
Excluded from the scheduling are all fencing, guard rails, and fencing posts, fixed benches, modern steps, bollards, fixed point information boards, and concrete hard standing, although the ground beneath all these features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 29700
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Rahtz, P, Glastonbury, (1993)
Rahtz, P, 'The Archaeological Journal' in Excavations on Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, 1964-6, , Vol. 127, (1970), 1-81
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing