Medieval monks possibly ‘made up’ King Arthur’s legends to raise money

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A four-year-long research, conducted by archaeologists from the University of Reading, has revealed some startling anomalies regarding the Arthurian history. According to the study, King Arthur’s grave, believed to have been found by monks back in 1181, is nothing but a rubble-filled pit. Furthermore, the structure, which has long been regarded as the earliest Christian church in Britain, was likely constructed by medieval monks, as a way of raising funds.

Located in Somerset, England, Glastonbury Abbey is believed to house the burial place of King Arthur as well as Britain’s oldest church. The new study, however, debunks such beliefs. When part of the abbey was destroyed by fire in the year 1184, the monks came up with the “earliest church” fabrication, in order to remedy their financial situation. To that end, they reconstructed the abbey in a way that made it appear older and more mystical. What is more, they even erected a spurious burial cross bearing King Arthur’s name. Speaking about the find, Roberta Gilchrist, a professor of archaeology at the University of Reading and the team’s leader, said:

The monks needed to raise money by increasing the numbers of visiting pilgrims – and that meant keeping the myths and legends alive… Dig directors were led heavily by Glastonbury’s legends and the occult. Using 21st century technology we took a step back from the myth and legend to expose the true history of the Abbey.

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For the research, Gilchrist and her team reanalyzed all the archaeological records of excavations that took place at the site between 1904 and 1979. The researchers examined the chemical composition of the glass, pottery and metal artifacts retrieved from the site. Most of these artifacts are currently kept in the Glastonbury Abbey Museum. For the purpose of a thorough inspection, the team conducted a whole new geophysical survey of the site. The team also studied the works of Ralegh Radford, a British archaeologist who led the excavations at the Abbey grounds during 1950s and 1960s.

According to available records, Radford discovered a Christian cemetary, the grave of King Arthur and also, a Saxon cloister, which was until now believed to be the oldest of its kind in England. The new study, however, confutes Radford’s findings. Based on their examination, the researchers have found that the walls of the structure do not line up properly, and likely do not belong to a cloister. Furthermore, analysis of Arthur’s alleged grave has revealed materials dating to the period between 11th and 15 centuries. The pit contains no evidence whatsoever that points to King Arthur’s time. Gilchrist added:

It’s likely the judgement of excavators like Radford was clouded by the Abbey myths. They were also less critical of historical sources than we are today and did not have the luxury of 21st century technology.

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According to the new research, the monks came up with these ‘Arthur’ tales, as a way of restoring the abbey’s glory after a fire destroyed most of the original structure. To that end, the monks had the church rebuilt in a way that made it look older. Their fabrication seemed to have worked, since, soon after that, the Glastonbury Abbey became the second richest monastery in all of England. Gilchrist said:

We found evidence that the monks laid out the buildings in a very distinctive way to emphasize the ‘earliest church’ story. They used archaic architecture style and reused material to emphasize the Abbey’s mythical feel. This swelled pilgrim numbers – and the Abbey’s coffers. Re-examination of the archaeological records revealed the exceptional scale of the abbot’s lodging, a luxurious palatial complex to the southwest of the cloister.

The study has come upon another interesting find: radiocarbon dating of the glass furnaces, in the area, points to the earliest instance of glass-working in Saxon England.

The article was originally published in our sister site HEXAPOLIS.

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