There’s more going on at Glastonbury Abbey than legends about Joseph of Arimathea. Let’s remember that young man known as Arthur, and his round table of knights, and the wizard Merlin (not to mention the evil witch Morgana). King Arthur is one of the most well known figures of history, although he very likely did not exist in the way that his stories have come down to us. Literary scholars continue to study and debate the existence of Arthur, down to the details of the spelling of his name. This is all fascinating stuff. Well, maybe fascinating to the scholars. But in examining the Arthurian legends through microscopic details, we can often miss the whole point of the stories. Arthur was a great king who saved Britain from invasions both terrestrial and supernatural. His stories are meant to inspire readers to remember the past, love their country and to imitate his example of selfless sacrifice. In some ways, this is not unlike the gospels handed down to us by the Apostles. They call us to remember the past, to love the Church, and to imitate the life of Christ. Let me be clear. I’m not equating the gospels to the legends of Arthur. There is a qualitative difference between the two. But in some ways, their purposes coincide. More on this later.
Glastonbury Abbey, now in ruins, was once a thriving community of monks, nuns, and friars. The grounds are open to visitors, and one can wander aimlessly over the stone walls and one’s own imagination. And there is much to imagine. Ancient legends claim that Joseph of Arimethea left the holy land in the first century and came to England where he founded the abbey. Historical records cannot prove this. In fact, historical records cannot prove Joseph ever left the land of Israel. Yet the story persists and is thought to be true by many Christian believers. Perhaps this was an early version of what we today call ‘fake news.’ Maybe ‘legendary news’ is a better term. Whatever the truth may be, worship of God has continued in this location for 2000 years. Even today, masses and vigils are held amongst the falling walls and in small alcoves beneath the rock foundations. The legend may be fake, but the worship is real. God’s church is anywhere God’s people gather to worship Him.