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King Arthurs Tomb
King Arthur’s Tomb, Glastonbury Abbey.
Glastonbury Abbey is seeking to commission a high quality work in stone to mark the renowned site of the tomb of King Arthur within the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.
Aims and Objectives of the Commission.
Glastonbury Abbey is visited by nearly 100,000 visitors a year from all over the world. The Abbey is constantly improving and developing the site to ensure its long term preservation; to enhance the experience for current visitors and to find new and creative ways of attracting new visitors. Many visitors come to see the site of the tomb of King Arthur, whose legendary association with the Abbey stretches far back into its history. Their experience of the tomb site is currently very disappointing as it is marked by a concrete kerb, some modern paving stones and an old cast iron information post.
The purpose of the commission is to greatly enhance the site with a high quality sculpture or work in stone that will provide a lasting focus of interest for existing and potential visitors to Glastonbury Abbey.
Who is commissioning the work?
The trustees of Glastonbury Abbey will be commissioning the selected work subject to Scheduled Monuments Consent and the approval of the Diocese of Bath and Wells.
Partners involved in the project.
Depending upon the resources needed for the commission the Trustees will need to seek additional funding from external partners. English Heritage and The Diocese of Bath and Wells will also be stakeholders in the commission. There will also be a process of public consultation as the project is likely to be high profile on such a site as Glastonbury Abbey.
The site for the commission
The site of the tomb, believed to have been in front of the High Altar in the Great Church of the Abbey from the twelfth century, is currently marked by paving stones and a concrete kerb. The site is surrounded by upstanding ruins and the area within is grassed. Given its location in this sensitive situation the sculpture will need to be in keeping with its architectural surroundings and be sensitive to the Christian ethos of the site.
Details of the piece
The site is open to the elements and is visited by many people. A sculpture in stone is sought to mark the site of Arthur’s supposed tomb within the great church of the abbey site. At this stage the trustees are open to ideas about the form the sculpture might take and the type of stone used: it could for example be figurative, of table tomb form, an engraved slab or grave marker. We are not looking for an historic reconstruction although the evidence provided in the accompanying details might be used for inspiration.
Roles and Responsibilities
The project will be managed by Janet Bell, the Curator at Glastonbury Abbey. There will be a panel of representatives from the Abbey and other partners including expert advisers. This panel will make the selection of finalist artists and from them the artist to be commissioned. The panel will further develop the brief with the artist finally selected.
The successful artist will be expected to attend meetings with this panel to further develop the brief and report on progress as the project develops. They will also be expected to take part in a consultation process and, if required by external funding partners, participate in interpretation of the piece with visitors and the community through exhibitions/displays and public talks (to be agreed).
Process and criteria for selection
The selection of the artist/sculptor will be on a competitive basis and at this stage we are seeking initial expressions of interest in the project and sufficient information to enable us to select five finalists. Key factors in selection will be the sensitivity of the artist and their work in reflecting the historic character and religious nature of the site and their ability to work with a range of interests and people. The subject of King Arthur on a religious site is potentially controversial and is likely to attract a great deal of interest and publicity.
By May 29th : Potential artists send expressions of interest with further details and images of relevant work and CV and outline ideas of approach to the project.
By 10th June: 5 finalists will be selected and contacted to work up a more detailed submission for consideration.
By Friday 26th June: Receipt from selected artists of final proposals.
Friday 26th June – 1st October: Designs and proposals from finalists will be displayed in the Images of Arthur exhibition at Glastonbury Abbey and comments invited as part of the consultation process.
The project will only progress further if sufficient funding is achieved.
No specific budget has yet been set. For the purposes of external grant aid applications and fundraising we are looking at commissions under £100,000 including installation costs and VAT.
Each of the 5 finalists selected with be paid a fee of £500 to work up their proposals for final submission and attend an interview with the selection panel.
Ownership and copyright
Glastonbury Abbey will retain ownership of the final work but the copyright will remain with the artist. Copyright and ownership of all the designs submitted will also remain with the artists. However, the Abbey will have publication rights of the 5 final designs selected for publicity and fundraising purposes. The details of this will need to be discussed further.
Glastonbury Abbey operates an Equal Opportunities Policy.
To register your interest in being considered for the selection process please send your contact details, CV, images and description of examples of relevant work and an outline of your approach to and likely costs for the project.
Please send to:
Janet Bell, Curator
The Abbey Gatehouse
Somerset BA6 9EL.
Or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further details of the history of the tomb site are provided below. Further details of Glastonbury Abbey can be found on the website at: www.glastonburyabbey.com.
Arthur’s Tomb, Glastonbury Abbey: Historical Background
Gerald of Wales says that in 1191 the monks of Glastonbury, guided by visions and certain indications from old manuscripts in their library, searched for and found the tomb of the semi legendary, King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. The discovery apparently took place in the cemetery to the south of the old church in an area between two ‘pyramids’ or tapering stone shafts. The site is now indicated by a cast iron marker.
By the late 12th century the ‘historical’ figure of Arthur, who might have originated as a battle leader of the fifth century, had been remodelled as a hero of literary Romance. It has been suggested that the Arthurian legend developed from Celtic stories taken to France by Welsh and Cornish immigrants and then gradually transformed as they were retold in the Anglo-Norman context. The stories then returned to Britain as part of British legendary history and as entertainment.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia, written in 1136, was popular in court circles in the late century 12th and spread the Arthurian legend as history.
Although Arthur and Glastonbury Abbey may have been linked in oral traditions before 1191 there are no known written connections before this date. Gerald of Wales described the discovery of Arthur’s bones at Glastonbury Abbey and it would appear he was present:
‘Now the body of King Arthur…was found in our own days at Glastonbury, deep down in the earth and encoffined in a hollow oak between two stone pyramids…In the grave was a cross of lead, placed under a stone and not above it, but fixed on the underside….I have felt the letters engraved thereon, which do not project or stand out, but are turned inwards towards the stone. They run as follows: ‘Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur, with Guinevere his second wife, in the isle of Avalon’…two parts of the tomb, to wit, the head, were allotted to the bones of a man, while the remaining third towards the foot contained the bones of a woman in a place apart; there was found a yellow tress of woman’s hair still retaining its colour and freshness; but when a certain monk snatched it and lifted it with a greedy hand, it straightway all of it fell into dust…the bones of Arthur …were so huge…that his shank bone when placed against the tallest man in the place, reached a good three inches above his knee…the eye socket was a good palm in width…there were ten wounds or more, all of which were scarred over, save one larger than the rest, which had made a great hole’
The discovery took place following the death of the Abbey’s royal patron, Henry II (died 1189). The Abbey had been devastated by fire during 1184 and needed funds to rebuild. Also in 1190 the childless King Richard 1 had made his nephew Arthur heir to the throne – if Arthur had been crowned this would probably have secured royal patronage for the monastery. The discovery was a clever piece of opportunism by the Abbey and would have attracted a great amount of public interest and income.
Arthurian literary culture influenced manners and practices at the courts of Henry III and Edward I. The English kings would have found the body of Arthur and the establishment of an Arthurian cult at Glastonbury useful in subduing the Welsh. Edward 1 and Queen Eleanor visited the abbey in 1278; Edward III visited in 1331 and Edward IV and Henry VII each named sons Arthur.
Following their initial discovery the bones were first moved to a chapel in the south aisle of the new church. They were later translated to a prime position in the choir of the Abbey church in a black marble mausoleum. When Edward 1 and Queen Eleanor visited the Abbey the tomb was opened ‘and there separately in two chests painted with their images and arms were found the bones of Arthur of wonderful size and the bones of Queen Guinevere of wonderful beauty’. Arthur’s left ear had apparently been cut off ‘with the marks of the blow which slew him’ visible.
Edward and Eleanor are reported to have wrapped the bones in precious materials, returned them to their chests and replaced them in the black marble mausoleum, which was located in front of the high altar. It seems that the shrine of Arthur was decorated with inscriptions and imagery. There was also an epitaph which has been translated as follows:
Hic jacet Arthurus flos regum, Gloria regni; quem mors, probitas commendat laude perhenni
Here lies Arthur, the flower of Kingship, the kingdom’s glory, whom his morals and virtue commend with external praise.
There were two lions at the head of the tomb and two at the feet. There was also a cross at the head end and at the foot an ‘image’ of Arthur, and a further inscription:
Arthuri jacet hic conjux tumulata secunda
Que meruit cellos virtutum prole seconda
Arthur’s fortunate wife lies buried here, who merited heaven through the happy consequences of her virtues.
This tomb probably survived until the Abbey’s dissolution in 1539 and would have been a great attraction to pilgrims.