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St Bride’s Mound

Bride’s Mound

Bride’s Mound is a tiny little mound to the west of Glastonbury, at Beckery, just near the foot of Wearyall Hill. Tiny it may be, but its history is great, for legend has it that it was a gateway to Avalon where pilgrims, arriving by boat from Ireland and Wales, would stay in vigil through the night, before passing on up the processional way to Avalon.

Arthur is said to have had a vision of the great Goddess here, and Mary with her son, and St. Brigid of Ireland are said to have stayed here. Hence the link with Bride (Brighde, Brigid).

St Bridget
William of Malmesbury, writing circa 1135, and John of Glastonbury, writing circa 1400, both describe traditions that St. Bridget visited Glastonbury in 488 AD, spending time at Bride’s Mound, where there was an oratory dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Relics of hers were left at Bride’s Mound where they were displayed in the chapel. Both writers implied that these relics were still at Bride’s Mound at the time of their writing.

William of Malmesbury and John of Glastonbury both state that a charter of 670 recorded the granting of lands at Beckery, where Bride’s Mound is located. Beckery is also known locally as Little Ireland, though the true derivation of the name is Beo Cere, ‘beekeepers island’.

A papal charter of 1168 refers to Beckery as the first of the islands in the Abbey’s estate. John of Glastonbury also mentioned a chapel dedicated to St. Bridget which had a special opening in the southern wall which healed those who passed through it. The fields around are still called ‘the Brides’.

King Arthur
John of Glastonbury stated that on Wearyall Hill there was ‘a monastery of holy virgins’ – the first reference to a women’s community in the area. He then related a story concerning the visit of King Arthur to Beckery, at which he had a vision of Mary and her son Jesus. At this time a hermit lived on the mound and officiated as priest. As a result of this vision King Arthur became a Christian and changed his coat of arms from a red dragon to one showing Mary and Child.

The Womens’ Quarter
Legend also relates that this area used to be called the ‘women’s quarter’ because a community of women lived on Bride’s Mound after the visit by St Brigid, and a perpetual fire was kept there. In 2004 the flame from the perpetual fire at Kildare in Ireland was brought back to Glastonbury, where it is kept alive today, awaiting the restoration of Bride’s Mound.

Processional Way
An Arthurian legend recounts how pilgrims who passed over Pomparles Bridge (the Perilous Way – now the road between Glastonbury and Street, which used to be an oak causeway), had to spend all night in vigil at the chapel before they could pass up the processional way to the holy Isle of Avalon. Bride’s Mound was held to be the gateway to Avalon, and the processional way went from there via the Iron Age ‘Castle’ mount (now destroyed by development) and St Benignus’ (Benedict’s) church.

St Bride’s Well
There is also said to have been a spring called St Bride’s Well which in the 1920s was marked by a stone and a thorn tree on which women would tie rags, as is still the custom in Cornwall. People threw objects into the well for good luck. This stone has now been moved to a place close by the river.

There has been one major excavation of the mound, by Philip Rahtz in the 1960s, funded by the Chalice Well Trust. This is what they found.

There is very little evidence from the Neolithic and Iron Age periods apart from some flints and some pottery, similar to that found in the nearby Lake Villages. One theory is that there were jetties along the north side of the island where the lake village people landed their boats.

There were some Roman coins, bronze items and tiles, suggesting that the mound was in continuous use throughout Roman times.

The archaeological finds of pre Saxon graves at Bride’s Mound.
The short straight lines with a circle in them are graves – only one was within the sanctuary. (Used with kind permission of the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society)

During the Romano-British, Arthurian and early Saxon eras there is evidence of post holes from substantial timber, wattle-and-daub structures. The dating is around 650-900 AD. There are also many burials.

The later Saxon chapel was built around this, suggesting the timber structure was still in use when the stone chapel was built. This suggests that the mound was in constant use and considered to be a holy place. Although there is no archaeological evidence for the period from the end of Roman times (c400 AD) to around 650 the fact that it was used both before and after suggests that the mound has probably been in continuous use since the Neolithic.

There is evidence of domestic occupation during this period, with remains of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry, suggesting a small community lived on the mound.

During the later Saxon era, around 930, a stone chapel and an adjacent house, called the Priests’ House, was built. It was used until the 1200s, when a new Norman chapel was built. There is no evidence of a community during this period – merely one caretaker-hermit-priest tending to the chapel. This appears to have been abandoned after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.

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