Glastonbury Abbey – A Centre of Learning
When Glastonbury Abbey was at its height in the Middle Ages, it was not only a great centre of religious activity but also one of learning and education. The Abbey had a magnificent library, said to be one of the finest in England and the monks were often tasked with transcribing and translating ancient books. Professor James Carley has published extensively on Glastonbury Abbey and its chronicles and quotes John Leland , as writing after a visit to the Glastonbury Abbey library:
“…Scarcely had I crossed the threshold when the mere sight of the ancient books took my mind with an awe or stupor of some kind, and for that reason I stopped in my tracks for a little while. Then having paid my respects to the deity of the place, I examined all the bookcases for some days with the greatest interest.”
Also attached to the Abbey, was a school where students were welcomed and supported, and which had close links to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, where monks were sent to be trained With the dissolution of the monasteries and the closing of the Abbey all educational activity in Glastonbury ceased. In the early part of the 20th Century, interest was revived when well-known personalities, such as Dion Fortune and Rutland Boughton, established themselves in the town. The war disrupted these activities but the 1980’s saw a renewed interest in Glastonbury as a spiritual place and a centre of learning.
Today, Glastonbury is returning to being a centre of learning and education. It is still early days but much has already been established.
In 1988, The Library of Avalon was set up as as a specialised library and has steadily grown since then, now housing some 12,000 books. The Isle of Avalon Foundation began life in 1991 as the University of Avalon, with the original vision to re-establish Glastonbury as a great centre of sacred learning. In 1995 it changed its name to The Isle of Avalon Foundation. In 2013, talks being run by Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre (Glastonbury Reception Centre and Sanctuary)as a fundraiser were growing in popularity and Glaston Centre School of Learning was born.
As with all activities in the town, courses and workshops are being handled by individuals and organisations. There is no one overarching body coordinating this emerging ‘University of Avalon’ but it is working in what has been described as an ‘Aquarian fashion’, in that individual self-sustaining entities work closely together to offer a balanced range of services.
Glastonbury has emerged as an example par excellence of a contemporary pilgrimage centre , with traditional and new forms of religion, goods and services producing a distinctive economy and pilgrimage experience. Many universities send under-graduates to Glastonbury to gain experience of contemporary spirituality, as well as post-graduates to carry out research projects. Other areas of research include Tourism & Hospitality, Anthropology, Archaeology and History.
In 2011, The Glastonbury Academic Symposium was organised by Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre (Glaston Centre with the objective of exploring various issues arising from the concept of research work in Glastonbury. From this has developed a research project, working with the Open University, and this Glastopedia site. Below are listed some of the facilities in Glastonbury, offering educational programmes.