The water flows red from a natural spring at the foot of Chalice Hill in Glastonbury. It is said to be infused with, or at the very least represent, the blood of Christ: or maybe it was rusty nails from the Cross; you decide. It was here, at the Chalice Well, so the stories tell, that Joseph of Arimithea buried the Holy Grail, the cup Christ is said to have used at the Last Supper and in which drops of His blood were caught at the Crucifixion. What on earth motivated Joseph is unclear; but his unlikely legend contributes to the highly marketable Matter of Britain that has kept King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad and all the rest nice and busy down the centuries. Of course, everyone knows that the Holy Grail can be found in a variety of other places too – under the Louvre, Rosslyn Chapel, the Dome of the Rock, the turf at Wembley and (of course) in the vaults of Fort Knox, to mention but a few of the more popular hiding places. Or, if it isn’t a cup or a chalice, it’s the blood of Christ Himself. Then again, the cup (or chalice) was a symbol pinched from much earlier Celtic tales of a magical cauldron that morphed into an intriguing part of Christian mythology. Who knows?
It is easy to mock, but the fact is that the Holy Grail is one of the most enduring legends we have. And if you happen to be passing Glastonbury, the Chalice Well is as good a place as any to include in your own personal, though dare I say probably fruitless, Grail Quest.
What is not in doubt is that the Chalice Well is considered by many to be a holy well and has been regarded as such for at least 2,000 years. Some see it as a representation of the divine female, with nearby Glastonbury Tor representing the divine male. The Chalice Well is a chalybeate spring, rich in iron oxide (hence the colour), long reputed to have miraculous healing properties, even being the essence of life, a gift from Mother Earth. I feel much same way about certain beers. Apparently, the well produces 25,000 gallons (or 113,652 litres) each day, never dries up and the water is naturally radioactive.
So here’s a place that should leave you with a nice, warm, glow.
A short walk from the Chalice Well, or Red Spring, is another well, the White Spring. At the foot of Glastonbury Tor and rich in calcium, the White Spring also has alleged healing properties of its very own. Access to the (colourless) White Spring is irregular, but the Red Spring is a full-blown visitor attraction in the care of the Chalice Well Trust, established in 1959 by the spiritualist Wellesley Tudor Pole (1884-1968) to safeguard the Chalice Well for visitors and pilgrims.
So the ancient Chalice Well now finds itself located within charming gardens that exude a certain optimistic, earnest, tranquillity – rather like a bookshop dedicated to self-improvement. Visitors, casual tourists and people of faith alike, come from all over the world; some return time and again. The gardens are a designated World Peace Garden, beautifully tended, rich in symbolism and you can whiz round in less than an hour, or take your time and stop at Certain Places for a spot of quiet reflection.
The well cover was designed by architect, archaeologist and psychic researcher Frederick Bligh Bond (1864-1945) and presented as a gift in 1919. Its two circles of equal radius form a vesica piscis symbol (fish’s bladder), an ancient and oft-occurring sign associated with the goddess Venus, the female and, later, Christianity. It can also represent a portal between two worlds. The vesica piscis shape is repeated in the garden’s vesica pool, into which water flows from seven bowls.
A minute’s silence is held twice a day at 12pm and 3pm, marked by the ringing of an old school bell. Some might find the affected symbolism at the Chalice Well gardens a little pretentious and repellent; others obviously find spiritual peace there. Personally, I think it’s a not-to-be- missed place if you happen to be in town. It is a lovely garden, if not huge, there are clean loos and a shop where you can stock up on spiritual reading matter, crystals, magic jewellery, and other essentials. What more could you ask? Oh – and don’t forget to take a bottle to fill with magical water, will you?