St. John’s Church, Glastonbury

 

Photo Samia Dance.

 

A number of very distinct features mark the place out as worthy of a visit from any pilgrim of the Avalon of the Heart.  Although dedicated to John the Baptist, Joseph of Arimathea is strongly associated with the church.

The large building, with an impressively tall tower, is situated in the middle of the High St and has been an important centre of activity in the town for centuries. Although much of its current look is due to a Victorian restoration, it dates back to the final years of the great Abbey and thereby provides unique continuity. It offers a place to commune with the people of Glastonbury who have come before us. So many of the emotional moments of their lives were played out there; Christenings, marriages, funerals, Christmas and Easter services. This has helped sustain a definite atmosphere that enhances appreciation and contemplation.

 

 

One of the famous Glastonbury Thorns is located in the churchyard. An alleged descendant of the original supposedly brought by Joseph, it flowers around the Christmas period as well as during the Spring, and a charming custom sees the oldest child in the nearby infant’s school take a cutting from it in a public ceremony, attended by the mayor and vicar, which is then sent to the Queen for her Christmas dinner table.

 

 

A fine stained glass depiction of Joseph can be found inside that has been widely reproduced. It was the incumbent vicar during the nineteen-twenties, Lionel Smithett Lewis, who was the person most responsible for spreading, through successively larger editions of his book St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury, the stories and their ultimate development, the idea that he was the uncle of Jesus and brought him as a boy here, a story that poet William Blake seems to have used when writing the words that when set to music as Jerusalem have become our “second national anthem”.

‘And did those feet in ancient times,

Walk upon England’s mountains green’.

A further notable feature in the churchyard is a product of the modern revival of Glastonbury and its unity in diversity.  A modest-sized labyrinth is marked out in the same style as the one allegedly present on the Tor. Community funded and created in 2005 as part of the commemorations of the three-hundredth anniversary of the setting up of the modern town on Glastonbury with a Royal Charter, people from all over the world, adults and children, can often be seen working their way through it, whether in silent contemplation or in laughter and celebration.