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Somerset Historic Environment Record

23605

Site Name: Church of St Michael, The Tor, Glastonbury
SCHEDULED MONUMENT: St Michael's Church, monastic remains, and other settlement remains on Glastonbury Tor [No:29700]
Civil Parish: Glastonbury
Part of:
PRN 22946Glastonbury Tor
Comprises:
PRN 15628Geophysical survey (2002), Glastonbury Tor
Grid Ref: ST 512 386 (ST 53 NW)
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Image: Image of HER 23605 - Photo by Somerset County Council (01 October 1988)
  HER 23605 - Photo by Somerset County Council (01 October 1988)

Public access:

As far as we are aware all or part of this site is on National Trust land open to the public. [Information last updated on 09 December 2002]

Details:

The earliest reference to the Tor is that in the so-called "charter of St Patrick" which is probably mid C13. A charter of 1243 gives permission for the holding of a fair "at the monastery of St Michael on the Tor". Another reference to what may be the Tor occurs in the C12 Life of St Collen who went to "the mountain of Glastonbury" and made a cell in a quiet spot near a rock There is also a well documented tradition that the church of St Michael was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1275. There are few post medieval references. In 1586 William Weston described the Tor in his memoirs and Stukeley drew it in 1723. On 28 December 1741 John Rawls was buried there. {1}

Excavation of the summit and the shoulder of Glastonbury Tor in 1964-66 (PRN 44979). In the medieval period from C12-16 there were few features on the summit except the church complex. Two churches can be seen but the area is very difficult to interpret as much has been disturbed and so the plans are rather subjective. The earliest church or churches are of C11-12 date - the extant foundations on the N side are assumed to be its N wall. A parallel wall can be traced on the S side giving a nave of 40sqft. These walls are not quite symmetrically disposed in relation to the later church or tower, nor quite on the same orientation, but they are so in relation to the two buttresses. Foundation trenches suggest a narrower chancel. The existing tower forms the W end of the later church of St Michael but no satisfactory W end was seen for the earlier, presumably towerless, church. The tower is mainly C14-15 with a corbel projecting from the S corner which if in situ can only mark the springer of a vault extending E. This reset corbel is C15 contemporary with the canopied niches and inserted sculptures on the W face. This later church may have been a simple rectangle, c52x15ft, with angle buttresses at its E end and possibly lateral buttresses. It was larger and narrower than the first The base of the tower dates from the C14. No doubt that the chapel represents a rebuilding after the earthquake of 1275. Post holes around the tower are interpreted as scaffolding The medieval features on the shoulder were bounded to the E by a wall which contained a fragment of column shaft of Doulting stone and sealed a C13 or later glazed floor tile. Interpreted as part of an enclosure around the church. W of the enclosed area was a major building built into a terrace cut in the rock. One corner contained an oven with a second further to the S Also there was a lead melting hearth. Likely to have been a bakehouse or kitchen, part of the same range of buildings as that encountered further to the SW on the same orientation. Dated to C14-15 Interpretation: the church of St Michael must have always been under the control of the Abbey. The dedication is characteristic of such hilltop sites and may have been the focus of a cult, perhaps deriving originally from its earlier monastic associations. The shoulder buildings, which belong to the later centuries of the church's existence, seem to have been quite substantial and well appointed. They were presumably for the use of a resident priest who would celebrate mass in the church and collect pilgrims offerings Period 4: Post medieval. Post medieval material was common in the church area and suggested extensive treasure hunting activity. Large numbers of pins were found. Two items were likely to be votive offerings. One was a gold and millifiori cross of C19 date belonging to the christian faith and the other was a silver ring set with a bezel inscribed with a design of the Bahai faith. Features included a four post structure. The charring of the stumps suggests that this was a beacon perhaps for Napoleon's invasion or Queen Victoria's jubilee. Other finds were posts for more recent notice boards etc There was also a grave containing an adult male skeleton and traces of an iron-bound wooden coffin. This was identified as the grave of John Rawls buried in 1741. It is unlikely that the church was more than a ruin by then, if that, and he was presumably buried near the E end. His grave was within the earlier of the two churches. {2}

The tower of St Michael remains and had major restoration in the C19 and in 1948. Stands 21m high. It is early perpendicular in style with an embattled parapet, stepped buttresses and niches with the remains of statuary. There are louvres in the upper windows. The shell is intact but is both roofless and floorless. {4}

Visually all masonry appears in good order, and the pointing is intact. Crack in top of tower's S side still visible, but tell-tales across it are intact. Internal floor uneven but intact and external concrete surfaces very uneven but essentially intact. {5}

Scheduled area revised with new national number (was Somerset 231) on 6/10/2000. {6}

Photogrammetric survey elevations prepared for National Trust. {7}

References:

1 Detailed records - Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division record card. Record ID: ST 53 NW 4 (1978) Location: HER files
2 Excavation report - Rahtz, P. Excavations at Glastonbury Tor, Somerset 1964-6. Archaeological Journal.  127 (1970), 1-81
3 Detailed records - Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division record card. Record ID: ST 53 NW 5 (1966) Location: HER files
4 Detailed records - HBMC Field Monument Wardens report (SCC Planning Department)
5 Site visit report - Graham, A [Alan]. English Heritage Field Monument Warden. (16/12/1998) Report location: HER files
6 Correspondence - English Heritage to Somerset County Council. (9/11/2000) Location: HER files
7 Elevation drawing - Downland Partnership Ltd. Glastonbury, St Michael's Church. (1999) Photogrametric elevations. Location: HER files
8 Mention - Pevsner, N. The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset.  (1958), 180.
9 Aerial photographs - DAP NV01. (1989) Location: HER digital information, prints in archive at Somerset Heritage Centre.

Record created in May 1985

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