Glastonbury – a possible derivation

Glastonbury is a small market town in Somerset in the West of England. It is said to be the burial ground of King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere. Throughout the Middle Ages there was great rivalry between Bishops and Abbots to gain favour with the people as a place of pilgrimage. As always it was a quest for money. Sad to think of clerics in this way, but such was life.

Glastonbury began to have all sorts of stories told about it. More recently there has been the discovery of the Glastonbury Zodiac, a circle of field boundaries and old roads demarcate the signs that lie in a circle around the town. Much bigger than the town itself.

Then there is the Glastonbury thorn, which always blooms at Christmas. Said to have been the staff of Joseph of Arimathea when he came there bringing the good news of Jesus to the land. Some say he was a copper trader and brought his nephew with him. A year or two ago it was savagely attacked by vandals. Probably someone who thought of themselves as pagan and standing up for ‘the old religion’. As misguided as the Medieval monks. If devotion is not founded on respect what hope is there?

However it is of the name Glastonbury that I wanted to write, so let me begin. In Welsh the word for ‘blue’, and incidentally ‘green’, is ‘glas’. It has always struck me that this was due to the making of glass, and incidentally the origin of that word, or at least derived therefrom, that might be of an indefinite mix of pale blue or green. That very ancient colour of glass.

In West Wales, in Pembokeshire, there are many places with the names ending in ‘-ston’. My father always poo-pooed the idea that this stood for stone. It was, he decried, the Saxon ending -ton meaning village. But I was adamant and am still that it stood, and stands, for Stone. Loveston, Puncheston, Robeston are just some of the names. For me it was apparent that these were stones that at certain times of the year would be celebrated with marriage rituals or robing and so on. They had a role in the society of the time that erected them, long before the Saxons came. Sadly many have been removed by farmers with tractors who see no need for such acupoints in the land to be marked.

It is common knowledge that the origin of the central stones in Stonehenge, called the blue stones, is the Preseli mountains in West Wales. The trade root from there to Stonehenge has been suggested as using the Avon river to get close to the site of Stonehenge. But the Avon runs far north of Stonehenge.

I propose that the town’s name Glastonbury is ‘Blue Stone bury’, not fort, as some would have us believe, although used for that as well, but simply town, a borough. It is through Glastonbury I suggest that the route was taken. I do not know the river courses around Glastonbury when it was an island at the time of the sailing of the stones, but for a people who could create an edifice as imposing and as accurate as Stonehenge, a few miles across land I think would pose no problem. They could hardly be more than those from the Avon south.

It may be that this is the very origin of the Holy name that Glastonbury has. Still called the Isle of Avalon today. Island of the apples as these were a fruit ‘sacred’ to those people, as they are to Aphrodite, Goddess of the island of Cyprus.

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