Monks dreamt up myths of King Arthur and a visit by Jesus to raise money and lure pilgrims to Glastonbury, research says

Glastonbury monks made up King Arthur myths to lure pilgrims. Credit: PA

Glastonbury monks concocted myths about the burial place of the legendary King Arthur and a visit from Jesus to raise money by drawing pilgrims to the area, according to research.

They dreamt up their plan in 1184, when their abbey burnt down and they needed to rebuild it.

They even said Jesus was brought there as a child by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathe.

It was said that his staff turned into a tree that still flowers on Christmas Day.

According to the research published by Reading University, Glastonbury Abbey was renowned in the middle ages as the burial place of King Arthur and the site of the earliest Christian church in Britain, believed to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea in the first century.

The ancient wooden church, vetusta ecclesia, was destroyed by fire in 1184 and the medieval Lady Chapel was built on the same site.

Glastonbury Abbey. Credit: University of Reading

But Professor Roberta Gilchrist from Reading University, who led the research, there was no evidence that a pit filled with rubble - said to be Arthur’s grave - was anything more than a hole dug in the ground.

The famous Glastonbury origins story was first recounted by William of Malmesbury (c 1129–30).

The myth was embellished by subsequent generations – including the addition of the Arthurian connection in 1191.

The aim was to establish Glastonbury’s importance among English monasteries and attract pilgrims and funds.

The monks successfully crafted the Glastonbury legends and by the close of the middle ages the abbey was the second richest monastery in England.

Glastonbury Tor. Credit: PA

Glastonbury’s myths continued to evolve in the centuries following the Dissolution of the monastery in 1539.

Now the site of the abbey ruins draws a large range of visitors including heritage tourists, students of history and spiritual seekers of diverse beliefs.