Last Photographed: Saturday 6th August 2022
Despite Glastonbury's illustrious mediaeval past, very few buildings of that period have survived. The notable exceptions are documented below.
St John's Church
St John's church, in its current form, dates back to Norman times. Recent archaeology indicates that a church existed on the site at a much earlier date. The early church featured a large central tower (most probably dating back to the Saxon period, circa 950AD), but this collapsed around 1403AD leading to extensive rebuilding work. The existing tower (commissioned by Abbot Selwood) dates back to 1475AD. Further enhancements took place around this date, and by the turn of the 15th Century, the church was largely as it appears today.
The church is notable for containing a funeral pall reputedly made from the cope worn by Richard Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury abbey. This is housed in a glass case that sits upon a stone plinth - possibly part of a 15th Century shrine to Joseph of Arimathea that once existed in the abbey.
Until the time of the dissolution, St John's was a dependent church of Glastonbury Abbey, serving as a parish church for the local population. Following the dissolution, it passed into the hands of the crown, and eventually to the diocese of Bath and Wells.
Glastonbury Tribunal is a well-preserved 15th Century building fronting on to the High Street. Law in Glastonbury was administered by the abbey, free from royal jurisdiction, and it was once believed that the Tribunal was the court house from which such justice was administered. These days, it is believed that the house has always served as a merchant's residence, and the kitchen block to the rear helps attest to this. The present façade is a 16th Century addition, salvaged from other period buildings. Currently, the Tribunal is home to the Tourist Information Centre and Lake Village Museum.
The George and PilgrimThe George and Pilgrim (originally "ThePilgrims' Inn", and later "The George Hotel") was built by Abbot Selwood of Glastonbury Abbey around 1439AD and is one of the oldest and finest of England's historic hostelries. Its purpose was to house the growing number of wealthy pilgrims visiting the abbey, and its existence is testament to the growing wealth and influence of Glastonbury's religious house in the late medieval period.
The inn's medieval façade survives in excellent condition. Attractive mullioned windows front the building, and the porch boasts an overhead heraldic shield, featuring the arms of Edward IV, St George, and a blank panel representing Abbot Selwood, who owned no coat of arms due to his religious status.
Various legends attest to the existence of tunnels under Glastonbury (a common archetypal myth), but in the case of the George and Pilgrim, the existence of such a tunnel is actually documented. From the cellar of the inn, a passage leads out under the High St in the direction of the abbey. It has been partially explored, but is blocked after a mere 20ft by a modern-day sewer.
Although usually considered to be Glastonbury's first pilgrim inn, this honour really belongs to The White Hart Inn. By the time the George and Pilgrim was built, The White Hart was not considered adequate for the increasingly wealthy visitors to the abbey. Although largely forgotten these days, The White Hart continued to trade right up until the arrival of the railways (although much changed and modernised along the way). It's later form can still be seen flanking either side of the entrance to the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms, which were built where the inn's stables previously stood. From this yard, the White Hart benefited from its own private access to the abbey. Bricked up in recent decades, the exit from that passageway can still be seen in the form of the abbey's whalebone arch.
The Abbey Gatehouse
Glastonbury Abbey originally had a number of gatehouses. The western gatehouse (also accommodating a porter's lodge) is the only one to survive into the modern age. Legend has it that Richard Whiting, last abbot of Glastonbury, spent his final night in the chamber above the archway before being taken off to be tried and executed.
At some point, the archway was blocked up and the whole building served as The Red Lion Inn. The gatehouse was restored following the Church of England's purchase of the abbey in 1908AD, and it now serves as the main entrance to the abbey for visiting tourists.
Jacoby Cottage is the only survivor of Glastonbury's three 'slipper chapels', where mediaeval pilgrims once stopped to slip off their shoes before continuing barefoot on the final stage of their pilgrimage to the abbey. Much altered since mediaeval times, it is now in use as a private home and guesthouse, but the bricked up chapel window remains visible on the eastern gable end. During the 1970s when the floor was lifted to investigate persistent damp, the original mediaeval water conduit was discovered running beneath the later floor. Presumably pilgrims would have bathed their feet here.
St Benedict's Church
The first church on this site was built in the 11th Century. The current building is late mediaeval, exact date unknown, with the tower added in the middle of the 15th Century. Abbott Richard Bere added the north aisle and porch (over which his monogram can be seen) in the early 16th Century. The porch also features a small window which was used to administer the holy sacrament to lepers. The south chapel and restoration work are Victorian. Until the dissolution, St Benedict's was a dependent chapel of St John's Church, and also under the control of the abbey.
Directly behind the church is St Benedict's Close. On earlier maps, this is labelled Grope Lane. Go back further, and it was once known as Gropecunte Lane - a common name during medieval times for lanes along which sex workers plied their trade.