|Arthurian legend location|
|Created by||Geoffrey of Monmouth|
|Type||Legendary idyllic island|
|Notable characters||King Arthur, Morgan le Fay, Lady of the Lake|
|First appearance||Historia Regum Britanniae|
Avalon (//; Latin: Insula Avallonis, Old French Avalon, Welsh: Ynys Afallon, Ynys Afallach; literally meaning "the isle of fruit [or apple] trees") is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 pseudo-historical account Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of the Kings of Britain") as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Avalon was associated from an early date with mystical practices and figures such as Morgan le Fay. It is traditionally identified as the former island of Glastonbury Tor.
Geoffrey of Monmouth referred to it in Latin as Insula Avallonis in Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). In the later Vita Merlini (c. 1150) he called it Insula Pomorum the "isle of fruit trees" (from Latin pōmus "fruit tree"). The name is generally considered to be of Welsh origin (though an Old Cornish or Old Breton origin is also possible), derived from Old Welsh, Old Cornish, or Old Breton aball or avallen(n), "apple tree, fruit tree" (cf. afall in Modern Welsh, derived from Common Celtic *abalnā, literally "fruit-bearing (thing)"). It is also possible that the tradition of an "apple" island among the British was related to Irish legends concerning the otherworld island home of Manannán mac Lir and Lugh, Emain Ablach (also the Old Irish poetic name for the Isle of Man), where Ablach means "Having Apple Trees" – derived from Old Irish aball ("apple")—and is similar to the Middle Welsh name Afallach, which was used to replace the name Avalon in medieval Welsh translations of French and Latin Arthurian tales. All are etymologically related to the Gaulish root *aballo "fruit tree" - (as found in the place name Aballo/Aballone) and are derived from a Common Celtic *abal- "apple", which is related at the Proto-Indo-European level to English apple, Russian яблоко (jabloko), Latvian ābele, et al.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
According to Geoffrey in Historia, and much subsequent literature which he inspired, Avalon is the place where King Arthur is taken after fighting Mordred at the Battle of Camlann to recover from his wounds. Welsh, Cornish and Breton tradition claimed that Arthur had never really died, but would return to lead his people against their enemies. Historia also states that Avalon is where his sword Excalibur was forged.
Geoffrey dealt with Avalon in more detail in Vita Merlini, in which he describes for the first time in Arthurian legend the enchantress Morgan (Morgen) as the chief of nine sisters (Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, Thiten and Thiton) who rule Avalon. Geoffrey's description of the island indicates a sea voyage was needed to get there. His description of Avalon here, which is heavily indebted to the early medieval Spanish scholar Isidore of Seville (being mostly derived from the section on famous islands in Isidore's famous work Etymologiae, XIV.6.8 "Fortunatae Insulae"), shows the magical nature of the island:
- "The island of apples which men call the Fortunate Isle (Insula Pomorum quae Fortunata uocatur) gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself; the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass. The ground of its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass, and people live there a hundred years or more. There nine sisters rule by a pleasing set of laws those who come to them from our country."[note 1]
Later medieval literature
In Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes, the consort of Morgan is the Lord of the Isle of Avalon, Arthur's nephew named Guinguemar (a derivative of the legendary Breton hero Guingamor). In Layamon's Brut, Arthur is taken to Avalon to be healed there (by means of magic water) by a more supernatural and distinctively Anglo-Saxon redefinition of Geoffrey's Morgen: an elf queen of Avalon named Argante.
Some later versions of the Arthurian legend (including the best-known, Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory) have Morgan (by this time Arthur's sister in the narrative) and some other ladies (magical queens or enchantresses, sometimes with the Lady of the Lake among them; other may include the Queens of Eastland, the Northgales, the Outer Isles, and the Wasteland) arrive after the battle to take the mortally wounded Arthur from Camlann to Avalon on a black boat. In the Spanish summary of the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal by Lope Garcia de Salazar, Morgan then uses her magic to hide Avalon in mist. Arthur's fate is usually left untold; in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, the Archbishop of Canterbury later receives Arthur's dead body and buries it at Glastonbury. Conversely, Stephen of Rouen's chronicle Draco Normannicus contains a fictional letter from King Arthur to Henry II of England, in which "Arthur" claims that he has been healed of his wounds and made immortal by his "deathless/eternal nymph" sister Morgan on Avalon, using the island's restorative herbs.
Morgan also features as an immortal ruler of a fantastic Avalon, sometimes alongside the still alive Arthur, in some subsequent and otherwise non-Arthurian chivalric romances such as Tirant lo Blanch, as well as the tales of Huon of Bordeaux, where Oberon is a son of either Morgan by name or "the Lady of the Secret Isle", and Ogier the Dane, where Avalon can be a "castle". In his La Faula, Guillem de Torroella claims to have visited the Enchanted Island (Illa Encantada) and met Arthur who has been brought back to life by Morgan and they both of them are now forever young, sustained by the Holy Grail. In the chanson de geste La Bataille Loquifer, Morgan and her sister Marsion (Marrion) bring the hero Renoart to Avalon, where Arthur now prepares his return alongside Morgan, Gawain, Ywain, Percival and Guinevere. Such stories take place centuries after the times of King Arthur.
Connection to Glastonbury
Around 1190, Avalon became associated with Glastonbury, when monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the bones of Arthur and Guinevere. The works of Gerald of Wales make the first known connection:
- "What is now known as Glastonbury was, in ancient times, called the Isle of Avalon. It is virtually an island, for it is completely surrounded by marshlands. In Welsh it is called Ynys Afallach, which means the Island of Apples and this fruit once grew in great abundance. After the Battle of Camlann, a noblewoman called Morgan, later the ruler and patroness of these parts as well as being a close blood-relation of King Arthur, carried him off to the island, now known as Glastonbury, so that his wounds could be cared for. Years ago the district had also been called Ynys Gutrin in Welsh, that is the Island of Glass, and from these words the invading Saxons later coined the place-name 'Glastingebury'."
Though no longer an island in the 12th century, the high conical bulk of Glastonbury Tor had been surrounded by marsh before the surrounding fenland in the Somerset Levels was drained. In ancient times, Ponter's Ball Dyke would have guarded the only entrance to the island. The Romans eventually built another road to the island. Gerald wrote that Glastonbury's earliest name in Welsh was Ineswitrin (or Ynys Witrin), the Isle of Glass, a name noted by earlier historians which suggests that the location was at one point seen as an island.
The discovery of the burial is described by chroniclers, notably Gerald, as being just after King Henry II's reign when the new abbot of Glastonbury, Henry de Sully, commissioned a search of the abbey grounds. At a depth of 5 m (16 feet) the monks were said to have discovered a massive treetrunk coffin and a lead cross bearing the inscription:
Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arturius in insula Avalonia.
("Here lies entombed the renowned king Arthur in the island of Avalon.")
Accounts of the exact inscription vary, with five different versions existing. The earliest is by Gerald in Liber de Principis instructione c. 1193, who wrote that he viewed the cross in person and traced the lettering. His transcript reads: "Here lies buried the famous Arthurus with Wenneveria his second wife in the isle of Avalon." Inside the coffin were two bodies, whom Giraldus refers to as Arthur and "his queen"; the bones of the male body were described as being gigantic. The account of the burial by the chronicle of Margam Abbey says three bodies were found, the other being that of Mordred: Richard Barber argues that his name was airbrushed out of the story once his reputation as a traitor was appreciated.
In 1278, the remains were reburied with great ceremony, attended by King Edward I and his queen, before the High Altar at Glastonbury Abbey. They were moved again in 1368 when the choir was extended. The site became the focus of pilgrimages until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.
The story is today seen as an example of pseudoarchaeology. Historians generally dismiss the authenticity of the find, attributing it to a publicity stunt performed to raise funds to repair the Abbey, which was mostly burned in 1184.[note 2]
The fact that the search for the body is connected to Henry II and Edward I, both kings who fought major Anglo-Welsh wars, has had scholars suggest that propaganda may have played a part as well. Gerald was a constant supporter of royal authority; in his account of the discovery clearly aims to destroy the idea of the possibility of King Arthur's messianic return:
- "Many tales are told and many legends have been invented about King Arthur and his mysterious ending. In their stupidity the British [i.e. Welsh, Cornish and Bretons] people maintain that he is still alive. Now that the truth is known, I have taken the trouble to add a few more details in this present chapter. The fairy-tales have been snuffed out, and the true and indubitable facts are made known, so that what really happened must be made crystal clear to all and separated from the myths which have accumulated on the subject."
The burial discovery ensured that in later romances, histories based on them and in the popular imagination Glastonbury became increasingly identified with Avalon, an identification that continues strongly today. The later development of the legends of the Holy Grail and Joseph of Arimathea by Robert de Boron interconnected these legends with Glastonbury and with Avalon, an identification which also seems to be made in Perlesvaus. The popularity of Arthurian romances has meant this area of the Somerset Levels has today become popularly described as the Vale of Avalon.
In more recent times, writers such as Dion Fortune, John Michell, Nicholas Mann and Geoffrey Ashe have formed theories based on perceived connections between Glastonbury and Celtic legends of the Otherworld in attempts to link the location firmly with Avalon, drawing on the various legends based on Glastonbury Tor as well as drawing on ideas like Earth mysteries, Ley lines and even the myth of Atlantis. Arthurian literature also continues to use Glastonbury as an important location as in The Mists of Avalon, A Glastonbury Romance, and The Bones of Avalon. Even the fact that Somerset has many apple orchards has been drawn in to support the connection.
Glastonbury's connection to Avalon continues to make it a site of tourism and the area has great religious significance for Neo-Pagans, Neo-Druids and as a New Age community, as well as Christians. Hippy identification of Glastonbury with Avalon seen in the work of Michell and in Gandalf's Garden also helped inspire the Glastonbury Festival.
Other locations for Avalon
In medieval times suggestions for the location of Avalon ranged far beyond Glastonbury. They included paradisal underworld realms equated with the other side of the Earth at the antipodes, Mongibel in Sicily, and other unnamed locations in the Mediterranean.
In more recent times, just like in the quest for Arthur's mythical capital Camelot, a large number of locations have been put forward as being the real "Avalon". Ashe suggests an association of Avalon with the town of Avallon in Burgundy, as part of a theory connecting King Arthur to the Romano-British leader Riothamus who campaigned in that area.
- By comparison, Isidore's description of the Fortunate Isles reads: "The Fortunate Isles (Fortunatarum insulae) signify by their name that they produce all kinds of good things, as if they were happy and blessed with an abundance of fruit. Indeed, well-suited by their nature, they produce fruit from very precious trees [Sua enim aptae natura pretiosarum poma silvarum parturiunt]; the ridges of their hills are spontaneously covered with grapevines; instead of weeds, harvest crops and garden herbs are common there. Hence the mistake of pagans and the poems by worldly poets, who believed that these isles were Paradise because of the fertility of their soil. They are situated in the Ocean, against the left side of Mauretania, closest to where the sun sets, and they are separated from each other by the intervening sea." In ancient and medieval geographies and maps, the Fortunate Isles were typically identified with the Canary Islands.
- Long before this William of Malmesbury, a 12th-century historian interested in Arthur, wrote in his history of England: "But Arthur's grave is nowhere seen, whence antiquity of fables still claims that he will return." It is known for certain the monks later added forged passages discussing Arthurian connections to William's comprehensive history of Glastonbury De antiquitae Glatoniensis ecclesie (On Antiquity of Glastonbury Church), written around 1130.
- Matasović, Ranko, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, Brill, 2008, p. 23
- Koch, John. Celtic Culture:a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO 2006, p. 146.
- Savage, John J. H. "Insula Avallonia", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 73, (1942), pp. 405–415.
- Nitze, William Albert, Jenkins, Thomas Atkinson. Le Haut Livre du Graal, Phaeton Press, 1972, p. 55.
- Zimmer, Heinrich. Bretonische Elemente in der Artursage des Gottfried von Monmouth, Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur, Volume 12, 1890, pp. 246–248.
- Marstrander, Carl Johan Sverdrup (ed.), Dictionary of the Irish Language, Royal Irish Academy, 1976, letter A, column 11, line 026.
- Hamp, Eric P. The north European word for ‘apple’, Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie, 37, 1979, pp. 158–166.
- Adams, Douglas Q. The Indo-European Word for 'apple' Again. Indogermanische Forschungen, 90, 1985, pp. 79–82.
- Berthelot, Anne, “Apprivoiser la merveille”, in: Mélanges en l’honneur de Francis Dubost, Paris: Champion, 2005, pp. 49–66.
- Walter, Philippe; Berthet, Jean-Charles; Stalmans, Nathalie; Le devin maudit: Merlin, Lailoken, Suibhne : textes et étude, ELLUG, 1999, p. 125.
- Lot, Ferdinand, Nouvelles études sur le cycle arthurien", in: Romania, vol. 177, 1918, pp. 1-22 (p. 14).
- Faral, Edmond, La Légende arthurienne, études et documents, Premiere partie: Les plus anciens textes, vol. II, H. Champion, 1993 (reprint), pp. 382-383
- Cons, Louis, "Avallo", in: Modern Philology, Vol. 28, No. 4 (May, 1931), pp. 385-394.
- "Vita Merlini Index". sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
- Barney, S., Lewis, W.J., Beach, J.A., Berghof, O (eds.), The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 294.
- Tilley, Arthur Augustus, Medieval France: A Companion to French Studies, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 176.
- Sobecki, Sebastian I., The Sea and Medieval English Literature, DS Brewer, 2008, p. 81.
- O'Callaghan, J., Kagay, D., Vann, T. (eds), On the Social Origins of Medieval Institutions: Essays in Honor of Joseph F. O'Callaghan, BRILL, 1998, p. 61.
- McClure, Julia, The Franciscan Invention of the New World, Springer, Nov 30, 2016, p. 66.
- Aseguinolaza, Fernando Cabo; González, Anxo Abuín; Domínguez, César. A Comparative History of Literatures in the Iberian Peninsula, John Benjamins Publishing, 2010, p. 294.
- Beaulieu, Marie-Claire. The Sea in the Greek Imagination, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, p. 12.
- Honti, John T. "Vinland and Ultima Thule", in: Modern Language Notes Vol. 54, No. 3 (Mar., 1939), pp. 159–172 (p. 168).
- Pérez, Kristina The Myth of Morgan la Fey. Palgrave Macmillan (2014), p 91.
- "Argante of Areley Kings: Regional Definitions of National Identity in Layamon's Brut". Ohio State University.
- "Crossing the Ocean Sea - The Mythical Atlantic Islands". www.crossingtheoceansea.com.
- "Stanzaic Morte Arthur, Part 3". Robbins Library Digital Projects.
- Michael Twomey. "'Morgan le Fay, Empress of the Wilderness': A Newly Recovered Arthurian Text in London, BL Royal 12.C.ix | Michael Twomey". Academia.edu. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
- Hebert, Jill M. (12 March 2013). "Morgan le Fay, Shapeshifter". Springer – via Google Books.
- "La desaparición de Morgana: de Tirant lo Blanch (1490) y Amadís de Gaula (1508) a Tyrant le Blanch (1737)".
- Hamilton, A. C. (2 September 2003). "The Spenser Encyclopedia". Routledge – via Google Books.
- "HUON OF BORDEAUX.* » 25 Jan 1896 » The Spectator Archive".
- "Digitised Manuscripts: BL Royal MS 15 E vi". The British Library.
- "Ogier the Dane". Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) – via Wikisource.
- "De l'illa de Mallorca a l'Illa Encantada: arrels artúriques de La Faula de Guillem de Torroella". Europeana Collections.
- "'But Arthur's Grave is Nowhere Seen'". www.arthuriana.co.uk.
- "MEDIEVALISTA". www2.fcsh.unl.pt.
- "Two Accounts of the Exhumation of Arthur's Body: Gerald of Wales". britannia.com. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
- Allcroft, Arthur Hadrian (1908), Earthwork of England: Prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman and Mediæval, Nabu Press, pp. 69–70, ISBN 978-1-178-13643-2, retrieved 12 April 2011
- Richard Barber, "Was Mordred buried at Glastonbury?: Arthurian tradition at Glastonbury in the middle ages", in Carley 2001, pp. 145–59, 316
- J. C. Parsons, "The second exhumation of King Arthur's remains at Glastonbury, 19 April 1278", in Carley 2001, pp. 179–83
- Luxford, Julian (2012). "King Arthur's tomb at Glastonbury: the relocation of 1368 in context". Arthurian Literature. 29: 41–51.
- Modern scholarship views the Glastonbury cross as the result of a late 12th-century fraud. See Rahtz 1993; Carey 1999; Harris 2018.
- O. J. Padel. (1994). "The Nature of Arthur" in Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 27, pp. 1–31, at p. 10
- "Glastonbury", in Norris J. Lacy (ed.) (1986). The Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.
- Rahtz 1993
- John Ezard. "Treadmill in the Vale of Avalon". the Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
- "Glastonbury: Alternative Histories", in Ronald Hutton, Witches, Druids and King Arthur.
- Loomis, Roger Sherman Wales and the Arthurian Legend, pub. University of Wales Press, Cardiff 1956 and reprinted by Folcroft Press 1973, Chapter 5 King Arthur and the Antipodes, pps. 70-71.
- Avalon in Norris J. Lacy, Editor, The Arthurian Encyclopedia (1986 Peter Bedrick Books, New York).
- Geoffrey Ashe (1985), The Discovery of King Arthur, London: Guild Publishing, pp. 95–96,
(p. 95) In Welsh it is Ynys Avallach. Geoffrey's Latin equivalent is Insula Avallonis. It has been influenced by the spelling of a real place called Avallon. Avallon is a Gaulish name with the same meaning, and the real Avalon is in Burgundy—where Arthur's Gallic career ends. Again, we glimpse an earlier and different passing of Arthur, on the Continent and not in Britain. (p. 96) Riothamus too led an army of Britons into Gaul, and was the only British King who did. He too advanced to the neighbourhood of Burgundy. He too was betrayed by a deputy ruler who treated with barbarian enemies. He, too, is last located in Gaul among the pro-Roman Burgundians. He, too, disappears after a fatal battle, without any recorded death. The line of his retreat, prolonged on a map, shows that he was going in the direction of the real Avalon.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Avalon.|
- Barber, Richard (1986). King Arthur: Hero and Legend (3rd ed.). Woodbridge: Boydell.
- Carey, John (1999). "The finding of Arthur's grave: a story from Clonmacnoise?". In Carey, John; Koch, John T.; Lambert, Pierre-Yves. Ildánach Ildírech: A Festschrift for Proinsias Mac Cana. Andover: Celtic Studies Publications. pp. 1–14. ISBN 978-1-891271-01-4.
- Carley, James P. (2001). Glastonbury Abbey and the Arthurian Tradition. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 978-0-85991-572-4.
- Harris, Oliver D. (2018). "'Which I have beholden with most curiouse eyes': the lead cross from Glastonbury Abbey". Arthurian Literature. 34: 88–129. ISBN 978-1-84384-483-9.
- Rahtz, Philip (1993). English Heritage Book of Glastonbury. London: Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-6865-6.
- Robinson, J. Armitage (1926). Two Glastonbury Legends: King Arthur and St Joseph of Arimathea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Tatlock, J. S. P. (1950). The Legendary History of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and its early vernacular versions. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Stout, Adam (2016). "Savaric, Glastonbury and the making of myths: a reappraisal". Antiquaries Journal. 96: 101–15.
- Avalon at The Camelot Project