Tag Archives: ancient holy place

The Glastonbury Experience 2017 – angels and dragons

There seem to be angels and dragons everywhere in Somerset!
In this blog post, I will share some of the places I visited on my recent Glastonbury Experience journey and what I discovered about the angels and dragons there.

When you start to look around, you see that there are lots of angels and dragons everywhere, especially in our art, sculpture and churches.

angels at the 13th Century St Cuthberts church in Wells
angels at St Cuthbert’s church in Wells

I’ve always just accepted angels and dragons being here and part of our lives,  but I never really knew why so writing this blog post has been an interesting journey of discovery.

It has definitely been information overload, angels and dragons are fascinating and vast topics and it’s not been easy to just write a short blog post… but I’m going to try to keep this Glastonbury Experience blog post to just a bit of the info I’ve discovered about Archangel Michael and the angels/dragons that decorate a few of the places in and around Glastonbury.

Some info about angels:

In the ‘Secrets of the Universe in Symbols’ by Sarah Bartlett, “Regarded as messengers of God by Jews, Christians and Muslims, they embody heavenly purity and benevolence…” 

Some photos of angels and winged creatures that decorate the ancient 12th Century St Cuthbert’s Church in Wells, near Glastonbury in Somerset. It has a beautiful painted wooden roof decorated with angels, interesting history and carvings/stonework. For more of its history visit St Cuthbert’s website.

And this leads me on to St Michael/Archangel Michael, who he is and what he does, depends really on your faith and beliefs.

In the Sacred Sites blog on Glastonbury:
“St.Michael, or more properly the Archangel Michael, is traditionally regarded as an angel of light, the revealer of mysteries and the guide to the other world. Each of these qualities are in fact attributes of other earlier divinities that Michael supplanted. Frequently shown spearing dragons, St.Michael is widely recognized by scholars of mythology to be the Christian successor to pagan gods such as the Egyptian Thoth, the Greek Hermes, the Roman Mercury and the Celtic Bel. Mercury and Hermes were considered guardians of the elemental powers of the earth spirit, whose mysterious forces were sometimes represented by serpents and linear currents of dragon energy.”

According to Wikipedia:
“In the Roman Catholic teachings, Saint Michael has four main roles or offices. His first role is the leader of the Army of God and the leader of heaven’s forces in their triumph over the powers of hell. He is viewed as the angelic model for the virtues of the spiritual warrior, with the conflict against evil at times viewed as the battle within. The second and third roles of Michael in Catholic teachings deal with death. In his second role, Michael is the angel of death, carrying the souls of all the deceased to heaven. In this role Michael descends at the hour of death, and gives each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing; thus consternating the devil and his minions. Catholic prayers often refer to this role of Michael. In his third role, he weighs souls in his perfectly balanced scales. For this reason, Michael is often depicted holding scales. In his fourth role, St Michael, the special patron of the Chosen People in the Old Testament, is also the guardian of the Church. This role also extends to his being the patron saint of a number of cities and countries”

St Michael at Glastonbury Tor
a stone carving showing Archangel Michael balancing souls at St Michael’s Tower, Glastonbury Tor

In Somerset, there are many churches and chapels dedicated/named after him, including the picturesque 13th Century (or possibly earlier) church of St Michael and All Angels in Somerton, near Glastonbury. It’s famous for its oak roof with its elaborate carvings, featuring 4 pairs of dragons, believed to have been carved by the carpenters from nearby Muchelnay Abbey around 1500.

Today Somerton is a small sleepy rural medieval hamlet, but once it was the main town of Somerset and even for a short while in the 7th Century, the capital of the ancient county of Wessex. In Medieval times it was an important crossroads on the road between London and the South-west, which has resulted in many lovely ancient medieval buildings and it’s a pretty place to wander around. For more of its history visit the Somerton Web Museum website.

“I don’t usually look up at ceilings, but it’s got me looking upwards to see what’s hidden there!”

the famous carved dragon roof at Somerton in Somerset
the ancient oak roof at St Michael and All Angels in Somerton

Some info about dragons:

Wikipedia states that: “A dragon is a legendary creature, typically scaled or fire-spewing and with serpentine, reptilian or avian traits, that features in the myths of many cultures around the world.”

St Michael is often shown in images with his lance, battling a dragon. In Christianity and many other religions, it signifies good conquering evil.

But, there’s more to dragons than this… In China and many Asian countries, dragons are a symbol of good luck, power, and strength. There are many different types of dragons; ‘Wyvern’ dragons are two-legged winged dragons with barbed tails and these are usually the type shown with St Michael, whereas Chinese dragons are more snake-like.

Until I began looking into why there are so many dragons here in Somerset, I hadn’t realised that it’s their main symbol. The Somerset county flag is a ‘Wyvern’ dragon in red and gold and for the past century it’s been on the coat of arms for Somerset County Council and it used to be the symbol for the ancient county of Wessex, but it has an even older history going back to Celtic symbols and the Romans. Many of the county’s logos, for schools, clubs and businesses feature ‘Wyvern’ dragons, and it’s on many other flags too, the most well-known one being the Welsh flag! For further info on the history of flags visit the: British County Flags blog

Glastonbury dragon
A dragon in Glastonbury on an ancient water fountain

An alternative view of dragons can also be found on the interesting and inspiring ‘Glastonbury Tor: Maker of Myths’ website, written by Frances Howard-Gordon:
“The Goddess took many forms and was represented in a variety of different aspects, but believers would see her essential nature in the harmony and balance of the natural order, the ebb and flow growth and decay of life itself. She was evoked and celebrated on hills and mountains, these being her seats or thrones on earth. It is interesting to note that many early images of the Goddess have spirals on their breasts, resembling the spiral on the Tor. Spirals also symbolised the coiled serpent or dragon, both regarded as sacred in the old religion. The dragon or serpent represented the natural energies of the earth and the sky – energies which were cooperated with and revered. In the Shakti cults of south-east Asia and China, dragons and serpents were associated with clouds and rain, and the Sumerian goddess Tiamat was a sea-serpent and Great Waters goddess. The Greek Mother of all things was the serpent Eurynome, who laid the world-egg. The dragon was also regarded as a manifestation of the psyche in which the real and the imaginary are blurred and are, as in nature, only different aspects of life.

…The first church on the Tor was probably of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and was dedicated to St Michael – a dedication which was characteristic of such a hill-top site. St Michael, apart from being the ruler of archangels according to Christian tradition, was also the dragon-slayer and the personal adversary of Satan. Early Christianity believed the gods of the old religion to be fallen angels or demons. The Christian church seems to have had a definite policy of building churches dedicated to St Michael on the old religious sites and sacred mounds. Since the Tor and its spiral maze represented the dragon, a symbol of the Primal Mother or Earth Spirit in pagan times, the building of a church dedicated to the dragon-slayer was obviously meant to act as a powerful deterrent to any kind of pagan celebration.”

My research into angels and dragons has been quite a revelation and given me a whole new outlook on them. I still view them with awe and wonder, but it’s combined with greater knowledge and a desire to know more…

My next blog post – Glastonbury Experience July 2017, St Michael pilgrimage path – follows soon

Thanks for joining me on my creative journey,
Sam Rowena, jewellery artist x

Glastonbury Tor

Some info about my special place…

Glastonbury Tor is known as one of the most spiritual sites in the country, an ancient sacred place, magical and bewitching, surrounded by healing energies, myths and legends. Join me on my journey of discovery.

The name Glastonbury Tor
from Wikipedia:
The origin of the name “Glastonbury” is unclear, but when the settlement was first recorded in the late 7th and early 8th centuries it was called Glestingaburg.  ‘Glestinga’ may derive from an Old English word or Celtic personal name, for a person or kindred group named ‘Glast’. ‘bury’ is Anglo-Saxon in origin and could refer to a ‘burh’, a fortified place or more likely, a monastic enclosure. ‘Tor’ is an English word referring to a high rock or a hill, deriving from the Old English ‘torr’. The Celtic name of the Tor was Ynys Wydryn, or sometimes Ynys Gutrin, meaning ‘Isle of Glass’.

“Somerset is Gwlad yr Haf in Welsh and Gwlas an Hav in Cornish, which mean ‘Country of the Summer’. “

Perhaps known as a summer country due to the Somerset Levels flooding annually.

The Somerset and Glastonbury landscape has changed dramatically over the centuries. Its been affected by the changing sea levels, as well as the man-made changes of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and others trying to reclaim land from the sea.

special light and atmosphere
special light and atmosphere

Ancient civilizations at Glastonbury
There is evidence of ancient people visiting Glastonbury for over 10,000 years. (Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods) Flint tools and a green stone axehead were discovered buried at the top of the Tor.

After the ice age, the sea levels rise and the sea would have been closer to Glastonbury. Around 4500 BC the sea levels sink and the area of the Somerset levels would be a salt marsh, peat and fen bogland. Around 1200 BC the climate becomes wetter and the Somerset Levels increasingly flood.

A route that’s been discovered, a raised trackway through the marshland, known as the ‘Sweet Track’, was built around 3800BC and is believed to be the earliest constructed roadway.

Glastonbury Lake Village
recreation of Glastonbury Lake village on display at the tribunal

An early Iron Age Glastonbury Lake Village was discovered in 1892 and many of the finds and information about it are on display at the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum at the Glastonbury Tribunal (a 15th Century stone townhouse / Merchants House with an early Tudor façade) in Glastonbury. The Glastonbury and Street tourist info centre is on the ground floor.

Glastonbury museum
at the rear of the Tribunal

This village created on a man-made island in the marshes dates to around 250 BC and was occupied until around 50AD when the water levels begin to rise again.

Glastonbury Lake village hut
a model of a village hut on display at the tribunal

Discovered among the excavations are 5 amber and 27 glass beads, bronze, wooden items and pottery.

more info:

Mystical and magic Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Tor would have been a mystical place rising out of the surrounding seawater marshes and lakes and this is where its links to the legendary mythical Avalon come from. In Celtic folklore Avalon was a high hill surround by water, its believed to be the isle of enchantment, a place between the living and the dead.

dusk view of st michaels tower

There are many other well-known myths and legends surrounding Glastonbury, including:

  • King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere’s burial in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.
  • The first wattle and daub church being built on the site of Glastonbury Cathedral in the first century by Joseph of Arimathea. On a later visit, his staff on being thrust into the ground grew into the sacred Glastonbury thorn bush and he brought with him the holy grail – the chalice cup – with him to Glastonbury and buried it below the Tor, whereupon healing spring water began to flow at the Chalice Well.
  • The terracing around Glastonbury Tor is a maze or labyrinth pattern that was used as a symbolic pilgrimage route up to the top of the Tor.
  • It’s a place associated with the Goddess Birgit.

A spiritual place
For thousands of years, Glastonbury Tor has been a religious place of worship. Although much of the archaeological evidence would have been destroyed when the top of the Tor was levelled in the 10th or 11th Century to build a larger church, some items have been discovered on the Tor.

  • the buried Neolithic flint tools found there are believed to be votive offerings
  • two skeletons excavated in the 1960s displayed a burial ritual typical of the Romano-British period and might indicate there had been a temple on the Tor
  • 6th Century pottery
  • part of a 10th/11th Century ‘sun/solar cross’
Inside St Michaels Tower
Inside St Michaels Tower

There is some evidence to prove that around 450 AD Celtic hermits briefly lived on the Tor and in the 7th Century that Saxon monks or hermits built 2 small cells and possibly a wooden chapel there. Followed by the large stone church, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1275 and was rebuilt smaller in the 1320s, this lasted until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry the 8th in 1539 and the execution of the Abbot at the Tor. The church was quarried for its stone and now the landmark St Michael’s Tower is the only building from the original St Michaels church that is left on the top of the Tor. It continues to keep watch over the surrounding countryside.

golden light landscape
golden light landscape

Energies, ley-lines and portals
There is strong energy at Glastonbury Tor, it’s a sacred and ancient place that is in tune with the earth rhythms and its energy flow. I believe that many of us in our modern world have lost our natural connection to the earth and our knowledge we possessed in ancient times.

Glastonbury Tor certainly has a lot of special energy surrounding it and I’ve found out from my research that its placed at a major intersection of the earth’s ley lines, as well as being one of the Earth’s main energy gateways. The St Michael’s and St Mary’s ley lines run through Glastonbury Tor and it’s a portal for the Heart and Crown Chakras.

There are many websites with further info on the history of Glastonbury and its folklore, myths and legends. These are just a few that I’ve visited in my quest for knowledge:

I have enjoyed my journey of discovery, learning about Glastonbury Tor and look forward to further discoveries on my next visits, now that I’ve gained a deeper knowledge…
Sam Rowena, jewellery artist x

St Chad’s Well

an ancient holy place

bellringers at chadkirk chapel
beautiful setting and acoustics for the bellringing at Chadkirk Festival 2015

Many years ago at a craft fair, I was recommended the Chadkirk Festival… after researching the event I applied for a stall and now I go there each summer and take part. It’s a lovely little festival in a great setting; with traditional music, dancing displays, and all sorts of handmade stalls in the garden area next to the chapel.

Before I head home after the festival I like to visit St Chad’s well, which is just up the hill from the chapel and see the well dressing. It’s decorated with petals, leaves and other natural materials. This year its particularly beautiful.

St. Chad’s Well Dressing 2015

From the Info board at the well:

“This ancient holy well may have had its origins in Celtic times but has come to be associated with St Chad, the 7th Century Bishop of Lichfield whose missionary work in spreading the gospel may have brought him to this remote corner of his diocese.

St Chad is regarded as the patron saint of wells and springs, in the Middle Ages, a well dedicated to him at Lichfield was said to have medicinal qualities and its water to bring about miraculous cures.

St Chad's Well
St Chad’s Well

Ancient Celtic sites were often associated with water in the form of sacred pools and springs, where offerings were made to the gods. As part of the process of conversion to Christianity, places, where pagan worship had taken place, were often adopted by missionaries for Christian worship, this may be the way that our well came to be associated with St Chad.”

More info:
There isn’t access to the well – you can just get a glimpse behind the well dressing – and there doesn’t appear much water in the well, all that can be seen is a little bit of water, some plants and moss (see photo above).   It still feels special, situated next to ancient woodlands and Chadkirk Chapel.

Chadkirk Chapel

Its believed that in the 7th Century Chad, who was Bishop of Lichfield from AD 669 to 672, founded a Monastic cell near to St Chad’s Well and that the present Chadkirk Chapel occupies the same site.

From the Info board at the chapel:

“Little is known of the chapel’s early history, but records show that there was a “chaplain of Chaddkyrrke” as early as 1347. For much of its medieval existence, it was a ‘chantry chapel’ where masses were said for the dead. At the Reformation the chapel was suppressed, it was disused and became derelict. In the late 17th century it was used by Puritan dissenters, but they were ejected in 1705. Following a further period of dereliction, the chapel was restored and partly rebuilt in 1747, thereafter being used by the Church of England. In 1865 a new church of Saint Chad was built a short distance to the north in Romiley. The old chapel was used only occasionally, and the church was once more falling into disrepair.

In 1971 the chapel was declared redundant and was sold to Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council for community use. Following further restoration in 1973 and local government reorganisation it passed to Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council and over the years more restoration of the chapel has taken place.

Burials – Most of the recorded burials in the Chapel and the surrounding Chapel yard date from the 18th and 19th centuries, but there are probably many older burials that were not recorded. The most privileged position for burial was with the church and close to the altar; only the wealthier families could afford these favoured plots.”

More info:
The name Chadkirk means the ‘Church of Chad’ and might be the ‘Cedde’ mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086.
Chadkirk is situated in Romiley, near to Marple in Stockport, Cheshire. 

further info: friends of chadkirk blog

Saint Robert’s Cave

an ancient holy place

A few years ago on an afternoon visit to Knaresborough, I discovered this small ancient cave and chapel remains. Hidden amongst the trees on a dark rainy day and visiting it on my own, it felt quite eerie and foreboding. My next visit there was in the summertime with a friend, but it still had the same dark feeling and we were glad to step back into the light. On this visit, 2 weeks ago, it felt different, the darkness seemed to have lifted and it felt peaceful. I ventured into the cave on my own and spent a few minutes meditating in the darkness and my fingers were tingling with the quiet energy coming from the cave.

From the info board at the cave:
The cave is cut into the limestone cliff and originally it served as the chapel, inside the cave is a small shelf cut out of the stone, which may have served as an altar.  Robert is said to have enlarged the cave himself, whilst his brother William had the small chapel built on the platform outside the cave. There are some remains of the small chapel, wall foundations, altar base and nave in which Robert was buried, his body was moved to the local priory sometime after 1250. At the far end of the site is the living area, outside the entrance to the cave, where a bench is cut into the rock.

chapel ruins
chapel ruins

More info:
Saint Robert’s Cave is a rare survival of a medieval hermit’s home. This site once attracted thousands of pilgrims to this North Yorkshire town. Robert of Knaresborough lived on this site in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Toward the end of his life, pilgrims came to be healed of physical ailments, for spiritual guidance, or simply to be in close proximity to the home of a revered holy man and they continued to come to the cave in large numbers for centuries after his death in 1218. The site retains a remarkable atmosphere of distant times.

Knaresborough in Yorkshire is one of my favourite places to visit, it’s a picturesque medieval market town, with its ancient castle ruins, panoramic view of the Nidd Gorge, narrow streets, alleyways, nooks and crannies to discover and also lots of great places to eat.
Sam Rowena x