I’m shuffling through a deck of cards from a 1930’s card game The Counties of England. There’s one for Glastonbury which is where I am today:
Glastonbury. Known for its Festival, its Tor (or Tower) and its alternative lifestyles. A town of hand-knits, crystals and Reiki healing with Eastern mysticism, veganism and every other ism. Glastonbury’s shops include: The Twilight Zone; Enlightenment; Gothic Image; Natural Earthling; The Green Man; Labyrinth; Conscious Clothing; Stone Age; Earthfare; God’s Gift; Elestial; Lilith; Minerva; Hemp in Avalon and Arcanacadabra.
At first sight it appears that Glastonbury’s alternative lifestyles and the religious ruin have nothing in common until a visit to the Museum in the Abbey (admission price for one adult £7.60). There it lays bare the scurrilous nature of the entire history of Glastonbury. A history of charlatans, mountebanks and swindlers. A history of cheats, frauds and shysters; and that’s just the Monks.
The Monks of Glastonbury Abbey found that they could increase their turnover significantly when they had the Holy relics of saints for worshippers, pilgrims and curious travellers to venerate.
You may have thought that St Patrick was Irish, or at least that he was buried in Down-Patrick in Ireland? Not so according to the Glastonbury Monk Shysters, he was made Abbot in Glastonbury in AD 443 and was buried on the right side of the altar of the Old Church.
In 1184 the Abbey was destitute after a fire, so it was exceptionally fortunate that in 1191 the Shyster Monks should have been directed by ‘visions’ and ‘indications in old manuscripts’ to find the 6th Century tomb of King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. What were the chances of them remaining undiscovered and buried in the cemetery of the Old Church and being discovered in the hour of the Abbey’s greatest need. If you ever think it’s a miracle, it’s a swindle. They subsequently relentlessly exploited the poor mortal remains of a couple of dead unfortunates and embellished the tale.
The question facing the Monks was how to get a competitive edge with some unique selling point over all the other peddlers of primitive superstition. The best way would be to claim that the church there was founded by Jesus Christ himself who visited Glastonbury whilst dead to found the Abbey, but that might strain the credulity of even the most ardent suckers, saps and the gullible. Why not have Joseph of Arimathea (the bloke who donated his own tomb to bury Jesus according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) (who all agree on that even though they couldn’t agree on how many loaves and fishes there were)) travel there and found the church? Classic.
Henry VIII destroyed the Abbey because of the power and wealth of the Monks there.
Glastonbury continues to be a centre for shysters, quacks, charlatans, mountebanks and swindlers, all claiming to have a religious or spiritual connection to some higher force which can be reached, touched or felt only be enriching them and destituting yourself. The Abbey is still visited by over 100,000 people a year.
When you pay your £220 plus £5 booking fee for a weekend of poor sound, desperate toilets and wallowing in mud at Glastonbury Festival for ‘the experience’ and say “There’s nowhere else that feels like it,” just remember you’re a victim who’s a tiny part of one of the most successful 1,000 year old marketing campaigns ever run. The Monks’ relics must still be laughing; all the way to the bank.
And I paid the Abbey £7.60 to find out how people had been swindled into paying to visit for 1,000 years.