Glastonbury Cross

The lead cross supposedly attached to King Arthur's coffin at Glastonbury Abbey.

Gerald of Wales in De Instructione Principis (1193) reports on the discovery of the remains of Arthur and Guenevere, together with a lead cross, at Glastonbury Abbey between two pyramids:

"...yet above all it was King Henry II of England that most clearly informed the monks (of the location), as he himself had heard from an ancient Welsh bard, a singer of the past, that they would find the body at least 16 feet beneath the earth, not in a tomb of stone, but in a hollow oak".
Gerald records the description of the lead cross as bearing the following inscription:

HIC IACET SEPULTUS INCLYTUS REX ARTHURUS CUM WENNEVERIA UXORE SUA SECUNDA IN INSULA AVALLONIA.
"Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with his second wife Guenevere, on the Isle of Avallon."

In a later work (1218), however, Gerald records it as saying "HIC IACET SEPULTUS INCLYTUS REX ARTHURIS, IN INSULA AVALLONIA CUM UXORE SUA SECUNDA WENNEVERIA." Essentially the same idea, but with a different word order. In 1221, Roger of Cogeshall, in Chronicon Anglicanum recorded it as

HIC IACET INCLITUS REX ARTURIUS, IN INSULA AVALLONIS SEPULTUS
"Here lies the famous King Arthur, buried on the Isle of Avalon." Later, it is recorded by John Leland's Iternerary of 1542 as both

HIC IACET SEPULTUS INCLITUS REX ARTURIUS IN INSULA AVALONIA
and HIC IACET GLORIOSISSIMUS REX BRITONUM ARTURUS

The first, the best known version, meaning "Here Lies Buried the Famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon." The second, an eyewitness account by Simon of Abingdon, says "Here Lies the Glorious King of the Britons, Arthur." Leland claims to have handled the cross himself before it was reintered in the presbytery of the abbey. He says that it measured about one foot in length.

Unfortunately, Henry VIII, as part of the Reformation, saw the abbey destroyed and the bones of Arthur--or whoever it was--scattered about the country. It was determined in 1962 that something was dug up at the site. However, whether it was Arthur and where the cross is remains a mystery.

Part of the importance of the Glastonbury Cross is the fact that for the Normans, it proved that Arthur was indeed dead, and that the Welsh resistance was doomed, as their messiah would never come. The "Rex quondum, Rexque Futurus" was no more.


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Mary Jones 2004