The Chalice Well

Chalice Well, gardens, Glastonbury, Somerset, Holy GrailThe 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?

Red Spring, Chalice Well, chalybeate, GlastonburyIt 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.

Vesica pool, Chalice Well, vesica piscis, visit SomersetA 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.

vesica piscis, Chalice Well, Frederick Bligh BondThe 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?

Vesica Pool, Chalice Well, Wellesley Tudor Pole

18 thoughts on “The Chalice Well

  1. Bill Nicholls

    Well having been to Glastonbury a few times and reading all the hype about king Arthur
    I would say the monks there at the time made up a lot of story’s to get people to visit the place

  2. CherryPie

    I enjoyed seeing your photographs. When I was in Glastonbury there was not time to visit and Mr C was reluctant to go when we stayed in Wells earlier this year. Maybe I will persuade him to return to Glastonbury one day 🙂

  3. diane

    I love your sense of humour. People have made up stories to explain phenomena over the ages to help explain mysteries. It makes them feel better. I would rather say they are acts of nature.

  4. Clare Pooley

    We didn’t see this garden or the well on our one and only visit to Glastonbury on a freezing early January day in 2006. Looks like a place that should be visited on a warmer day!

  5. marmeladegypsy

    You’re right — it’s easy to mock but it’s just too fun not to! That said, I would put Glastonbury on my Brit travel roster if I could. I’ve always been intrigued by Arthur and the gang since I was a kid and have read a bit about it and seen some documentaries that are intriguing. And from what you show and say here, Mike, it really looks beautiful and well worth a visit. Lovely photos!

  6. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – I have yet to get to Glastonbury … and this is now definitely a place to visit with its various ‘attractions’ – I need to see April’s oppressive Glastonbury too … cheers Hilary

  7. Judy@CranberryMorning

    I suspect the ale is more beneficial. So is all this where ‘And did those feet in ancient times…’ comes from? And why was Joseph of A. burying the chalice anyway? A time capsule or something? Regardless, more stuff that makes England fascinating.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Yes, William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ is partly inspired by a very unlikely story that Joseph of A visited Britain along with a young Jesus. Not only why did he bury it – but also why bury it here?

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