Glastonbury Vision 2003
Rebuilding the Abbey of Glaston - as seen in an outline paper in 2003
'This is a private paper representing personal views and is produced to allow the views to be shared with friends to see if there is sufficient common ground to allow these ideas to be taken further
Since I first came to Glastonbury in 1986 I have felt called to work with others to build Glastonbury once more into a great centre of Spiritual energy with all the facilities needed to welcome the Pilgrims that come from all over the world. I call it rebuilding the Abbey but it is rebuilding the Abbey as a centre of spiritual energy rather than a collection of buildings. There may be new buildings but these will be there to serve the spiritual purpose rather than for any other reason.
The vision of building a great spiritual centre in Glastonbury – along the lines of the mediaeval monastery but in a manner appropriate to the 21st century - has inspired many people. A number of recent attempts have been made to make the present fragmented nature of Glastonbury more coherent but most have failed. But the strength of the idea continues and some believe that there is a spiritual or psychic energy guiding this vision – some see this energy as “The Company of Avalon” – a group of previous monks of the Abbey – others as “The Angel of Glastonbury” and yet others as the spirit of a particular place – the “Spirit of Chalice Well” for instance. Whether or not one chooses to embrace one of these ideas, there does seem to be some form of influence that inspires a similar vision in the minds of many people.
In myth and legend, Glastonbury has long been held to be a sacred place, a place of mystery, the Isle of Avalon. There is very little positive evidence before about the year 600 AD but from then on the spiritual focus of the place was the ever expanding Abbey. By the time of the dissolution of the Abbey it was one of the largest and most prosperous Abbeys in the England. It was not only a spiritual powerhouse but immensely rich due to gifts it received of land and cash. At its peak the Abbey had some 50 choir monks holding the spiritual energy and over 100 lay brothers doing the practical work of running the Abbey and its estates.The Abbey was a very large “business” and the town of Glastonbury, which had grown up around the Abbey to serve its needs, supported its operation. In the town were all the material support services needed by this large enterprise – butchers, bakers, candle stick makers etc.
In 1539, Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey, the monks were pensioned off, the farms and properties sold and the slow dismantling of the Abbey buildings was started. This large enterprise was closed and the economic heart was taken out of the town. Ever since then the town has been seeking a replacement for the lost economic energy of the Abbey. In a way seeking a new purpose. Over the years it has been a market town and sheepskin-processing centre but has never returned to the prosperity of the days of the Abbey. In the last few years there has been a growth in “New Age” activities and a significant part of the town’s economic activity is now represented by what could be called “Pilgrim Centred” activities – specialised shops and cafes, courses, workshops, alternative centres etc.,
The overall concept of “rebuilding the Abbey” is that a new spiritual centre be created which will honour the sacred energies of Glastonbury and supply the economic prosperity of the town as was done in the Middle Ages. The community of the new “Abbey” will however be completely different from the original and will be wholly appropriate to the 21st Century. There will be many aspects of this new spiritual centre and below we briefly explore the past and present version of some of these aspects.
The Spiritual Community
Then – the Abbey housed a community of celibate male, Christian, black robed Monks. This was a tight knit community with a common pattern of worship. These monks were living in a group of self-contained buildings behind an enclosing wall, obeying the Benedictine Rule and under the firm hand of an Abbot. The Abbot was elected by the monks but once elected had complete power over his brother monks. The Abbot was the representative of Christ and all monks had to have complete obedience to him. The Abbot in turn appointed various officers to help run the monastery. A monk was seen to be one who had adopted a way of life whose model was the spiritual perfection of Christ. The monks were human and far from perfect but this was the object of their lives. The choir monks attended six plus services a day in the Abbey Church and between services were occupied in reading, writing, private prayer and running the Abbey.
At their peak the monasteries were seen as powerful centres of Spiritual energy.
As in the days of the Abbey, Glastonbury is seen today by many as being a spiritual centre. But the “monks” are very different! Many people now living in Glastonbury feel that they have been called to serve the spiritual centre but only in their own particular and personal way. The main difference from the Abbey monks is that the new “monks” are highly individualistic and have their own spiritual paths, practises and methods of worship. Some are followers of established religions but many have other beliefs. They live in the their own homes - they live in couples and are married, they are men and women and do not all wear the same robes – there is no central authority but there is a common commitment to Glastonbury as a sacred place. The multitude of different spiritual paths followed by the new spiritual community in Glastonbury means that there are no common spiritual practises and no recognised way of the community as a whole coming together.
In the Middle Ages the Church was strongly established and there was an almost universal fear of the possibility of eternal hell and damnation. The best way of avoiding this was to live a perfect Christian life, but if this was too difficult then a good insurance policy was to support the church in order that it could pray for your soul. As a result gifts of land and cash poured into the Abbeys from the rich and powerful. Glastonbury Abbey, as a famous centre of spiritual power and the home of many saints, benefited handsomely from, not only the gifts of the rich, but the visits of many Pilgrims. The Abbey became immensely rich being self-sustaining from its own estates whilst at the same time receiving still further gifts. The Abbey was thus able to build its magnificent buildings and to support the thriving town around it.
10 years ago Glastonbury was at very low ebb with the closure of the Morlands sheep skin processing factory and the consequent substantial loss of jobs. In the last few years the town has gradually picked up as more “alternative” people have started to visit the town and others have moved here to open appropriate businesses. The town is now known world wide as a centre of Pilgrimage but the services offered to Pilgrims are very fragmented and often difficult to find. There is certainly there a growing economic energy being developed by the alternative community. It is our belief that a greater co-operation between the individuals of this community would lead to an increased level of spiritual energy, drawing more activity to the town and generating increased prosperity. An as in the Middle Ages, this prosperity would benefit the whole town.
The Abbey had magnificent buildings, the church, dormitories, dinning halls, Abbot’s quarters etc.,
The new community of Glastonbury have their own homes, various cafes and quite a few meeting rooms and halls that can be hired. There are a number of churches but no truly non-denominational buildings that could be used for communal worship.
Services offered to the wider community
The Abbey provided a comprehensive range of services to the outside world. They welcomed and supported pilgrims, they wrote books, kept an extensive library, ran a school, ran their farms, employed townspeople people. In many cases the Abbot was a significant figure with an influence beyond Glastonbury in both the Church and in the government of the realm.
In a very individualistic way the new community of the spiritual Glastonbury is offering a wide range of specialised services to pilgrims visiting Glastonbury and for people living in the town. There are courses, workshops, healing, bookshops, cafes and numerous events. But there is no co-operation in planning these events and there is no positive way of welcoming pilgrims into the town. The town is not working as one centre of energy. At present Glastonbury has very little influence outside the town but it could have a significant role to play as a model of a spiritual community of the 21st Century.
The following are personal beliefs on what is being called into being and how we could set about bringing it about:
Glastonbury is being called to recreate the spiritual and economic pattern of the mediaeval Abbey but in an entirely new way
· The new spiritual centre that is envisioned will help the whole town to prosper and welcome all pilgrims.
· All the people, skills and talents required are already in the town - all that is needed is to find a way to cooperate in order to bring about a co-ordinated whole.
· This new centre will be one where all the differences are honoured and respected and everyone will be able to continue their own highly personal path.
· There will be an acceptance of the paths of others and their difference will be valued.
· It will be up to each individual and group to decide where they fit into the whole, how they can contribute to the whole and how they are going to work with others to make the vision come about.
· It will be accepted that we are stronger working together and that sharing our skills and experience with others will strengthen and not weaken us.
· There cannot be a hierarchical structure and whatever is to come about will have to be from an equal group of peers.
· It can be started by a small group and others who share the vision will join, modifying the visions in a way that all can accept and steadily building the number of people involved
It is about unity of intent and individuality of activity