EBK Home
  King Arthur
  Mail David


Giraldus Cambrensis
Extract from his "Speculum Ecclesiae" (1216)

In our own lifetime, when Henry II was reigning in England, strenuous efforts were made in Glastonbury Abbey to locate what must have once been the splendid tomb of Arthur. It was the King himself who put them on to this, and Abbot Henry, who was later elected Bishop of Worcester, gave them every encouragement.

With immense difficulty, Arthur's body was eventually dug up in the churchyard dedicated by Saint Dunstan. It lay between two tall pyramids with inscriptions on them, which pyramids had been erected many years before in memory of Arthur. The body was reduced to dust, but it was lifted up into the fresh air from the depths of the grave and carried with the bones to a more seemly place of burial. In the same grave there was found a tress of woman's hair, blond and lovely to look at, plaited and coiled with consummate skill, and belonging, no doubt, to Arthur's wife, who was buried there with her husband.

The moment that [he saw],this lock of hair, [one of the monks], who was standing there in the crowd, jumped down into the deep grave in an attempt to snatch hold of it before any of the others. It was a pretty shameless thing to do and it showed little reverence for the dead. This monk, then, of whom I have told you, a silly, rash and impudent fellow, who had come to gawp at what was going on, dropped down into the hole, which was a sort of symbol of the Abyss from which none of us can escape. He was determined to seize hold of this tress of woman's hair before anyone else could do so and to touch it with his hand. This was a fair indication of his wanton thoughts, for female hair is a snare for the feeble-minded, although those with any strength of purpose can resist it.

Hair is considered to be imperishable, in that it has no fleshy content and no humidity of its own, but as he held it in his hand after picking it up and stood gazing at it in rapture, it immediately disintegrated into fine powder. All those who were watching were astounded by what had happened. By some sort of miracle, not to say. . ., it just disappeared, as if suddenly changed back into atoms, for it could never have been uncoiled and examined closely. . .this showed that it was even more perishable than most things, proving that all physical beauty is a transitory thing for us to stare at with our vacant eyes or to grope for in our lustful moments, empty and availing nothing. As the philosopher says: 'Physical beauty is short-lived, it disappears so soon' it fades more quickly than the flowers in springtime.

Many tales are told and many legends have been invented about King Arthur and his mysterious ending. In their stupidity the British 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.

After the Battle of Camlann. . .killed his uncle. . .Arthur: the sequel was that the body of Arthur, who had been mortally wounded, was carried off by a certain noble matron, called Morgan, who was his cousin, to the Isle of Avalon, which is now known as Glastonbury. Under Morgan's supervision the corpse was buried in the churchyard there. As a result, the credulous Britons and their bards invented the legend that a fantastic sorceress called Morgan had removed Arthur's body to the Isle of Avalon, so that she might cure his wounds there. According to them, once he has recovered from his wounds this strong and all-powerful King will return to rule over the Britons in the normal way. The result of all this is that they really expect him to come back, just as the Jews, led astray by even greater stupidity, misfortune and misplaced faith, really expect their Messiah to return.

It is worth noting. . .just as, indeed. . .placed by all, as. . .are called islands and are known to be situated in salt water, that is to say in the sea. It is called Avalon, either from the Welsh word 'aval', which means apple, because appletrees and apples are very common there, or from the name of a certain Vallo who used to rule over the area long ago. In remote times, the place used to be called 'Ynys Gutrin' in the Welsh language, that is the Island of Glass, no doubt from the glassy colour of the river which flows round it in the marshland. As a result, the Saxons who occupied the area later on called it 'Glastonia' in their language, for in Saxon or English 'glass' corresponds to the Latin word 'vitrum'. From what I have said, you can see why it was called first 'the Isle of Avalon' and then 'Glastonia'. It is also clear how this fantastic sorceress came to be adopted by the story-tellers.
It is worthy of note that the Abbot called. . .also from the letters inscribed on it, although they had been almost obliterated long ago by the passing of the years, and he had the aforesaid King Henry to provide the main evidence.

The King had told the Abbot on a number of occasions that he had learnt from the historical accounts of the Britons and from their bards that Arthur had been buried in the churchyard there between two pyramids which had been erected subsequently, very deep in the ground for fear lest the Saxons, who had striven to occupy the whole island after his death, might ravage the dead body in their evil lust for vengeance. Arthur had attacked them on a great number of occasions and had expelled them from the Island of Britain, but his dastardly nephew Mordred had called them back again to fight against him. To avoid such a frightful contingency, to a large stone slab, found in the tomb by those who were digging it up, some seven feet. . .a leaden cross had been fixed, not on top of the stone, but underneath it, bearing this inscription:


They prised this cross away from the stone, and Abbot Henry, about whom I have told you, showed it to me. I examined it closely and I read the inscription. The cross had been attached to the under side of the stone and, to make it even less easy to find, the surface with the lettering had been turned towards the stone. One can only wonder at the industry and the extraordinary prudence of the men of that period, who were determined to protect at all costs and for all time the body of this great man, their leader and the ruler of this area, from the possibility of sudden desecration. At the same time they ensured that at some moment in the future, when the troubles were over, the evidence of the lettering cut into the cross might be discovered as an indication of what they had done.

. . .it had indicated, so Arthur's body was discovered, not in a stone sarcophagus, carved out of rock or of Parian marble, as would have been seemly for so famous a King, but in wood, in an oak bole hollowed out for this purpose and buried deep in the earth, sixteen feet or more down, for the burial of so great a Prince, hurried, no doubt, rather than performed with due pomp and ceremony, as this period of pressing disturbance made only too necessary.

When the body was discovered from the indications provided by King Henry, the Abbot whom I have named had a splendid marble tomb built for it, as was only proper, for so distinguished a ruler of the area, who, moreover, had shown more favour to this church than to any other in his kingdom, and had endowed it with wide and extensive lands. By the judgement of God, which is always just and which in this case was certainly not unjustified, who rewards all good deeds not only in Heaven above but on this earth and in our terrestrial Iife. . ., church. . .others of his kingdom. . .the genuine [remains] and the body. . .of Arthur to be buried in a seemly fashion. . .and gloriously. . .and. . .inhumed.


    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.