Glastonbury Tor is the striking pinnacle shaped hill that marks your approach to Glastonbury itself. St Michael's Tower stands on top of the 521 feet hill and can be seen for miles around the flatter surrounding countryside. It dates from the fifteenth century and is built on top of an earlier fort dating from the church. In September 1275 an earthquake centred in the Portsmouth area shook the Tor and was felt in London. As a consequence the St Michael's church that stood at that time was destroyed.
Glastonbury Tor is fabled to be the Isle of Avalon of Arthurian legend and is credited with having strong spiritual energy. It is the focal point for many pilgrimages either spiritual or for the fabulous panoramic views from the top.
The slopes of the Glastonbury Tor show obvious terraces. These have been attributed to either a Neolithic sacred labyrinth or as a result of ancient farming practices or sheep grazing. Excavations on the Tor have revealed Neolithic flint tools and Roman artefacts so it has certainly been used since ancient times. It is managed by the National Trust today who maintains a path up to the tower.
Attempts have been made to reintroduce the Glastonbury Thorn to the Tor which is associated with Joseph of Arimathea who is said to have brought the Holy Grail to Britain. When he landed on the Island of Avalon he came to Wearyall Hill just below Glastonbury Tor. He is said to have rested after planting his staff into the ground. Come morning his staff had taken root leaving the sacred Glastonbury Thorn.
The Glastonbury Thorn is a variant of the more common hawthorn we see in hedgerows today. It was first mentioned in the sixteenth century. This shrub was unusual in that it flowered twice a year, once at Christmas, whereas the usual hawthorn only flowers once in early Spring.
The original Glastonbury Thorn was cut down and burned by Cromwellian troops during the English Civil War. Several Glastonbury Thorns still survive, two in St John's Parish Church from which sprigs are cut and sent to the Queen, a tradition that started by the Bishop of Bath and Wells under James I's reign.