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York academics reconstruct Glastonbury Abbey church

Posted on 17 June 2016

Historians at the University of York have helped to produce a series of digital reconstructions depicting how the Anglo-Saxon church on the site of Glastonbury Abbey looked in the eighth century.

Digital reconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon church on the site of Glastonbury Abbey, eighth century.

Academics from York’s Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture worked with a team led by Professor Roberta Gilchrist at the University of Reading.

Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset is reputedly built on the site of the earliest Christian church in Britain, believed to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea.

The new images are part of work to enhance the visitor experience to the internationally-renowned site and help bring the history, heritage and legends to life.

The year-long project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Centre, follows previous studies showing the site was occupied during the time of the legendary King Arthur - said to be buried at the Abbey.

With three phases of Saxon Churches discovered, beginning c AD 700, the new image shows phase two. Regular visitors will see that it abutted the Lady Chapel ruins today and stands in what was to become the nave of the medieval Abbey.

Roberta Gilchrist, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading and an Abbey Trustee, said: “The excavations in the 1920s discovered a series of Saxon churches; they lay to the east of the site of the legendary Old Church – the medieval monks claimed this was the first in Britain and it was founded by Joseph of Arimathea.

“In the second phase, shown by the digital reconstruction we release today, the church extended eastwards and there is evidence for an open court to the west. This enclosed space controlled access to the Saxon church and the legendary ‘Old Church’.”

Evidence has also been found to show the Abbey was one of the first sites of Saxon glass-making in England.

Roberta continued: “This work explains and connects the archaeology to the spiritual and legendary significance of Glastonbury Abbey. It shows the importance of particular spaces and how they are central to the key myths which surround the site.”

Dee Dyas, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, said: ““This has been a challenging and exciting project for us, collaborating with Reading and the Abbey to bring the very complex story of the early history this important site to life.”

Janet Bell, Abbey Director, said: “These are the first visual reconstructions of the Anglo-Saxon church on this site. It is really exciting for us and for visitors, who for the first time will be able to see how the Abbey ruins today connect with the past and how the site has been used for centuries.”

An interactive map and the opportunity to explore the recreations will be in-situ at the Abbey’s museum this autumn, with new education resources providing links to the National Curriculum.

The image will also be shown at Glastonbury Festival next week with festival-goers asked “Will you visit the Abbey to see the new digital reconstructions?” An online survey is also available at:

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