Library of Avalon
Glastonbury, a centre of spiritual knowledge since long before the Christians arrived, and said to be the site of the first Christian Church, has been reputed to be a place of worship and pilgrimage since Neolithic times.
With the Middle Ages came the growth of the great Benedictine Abbey of Glastonbury which had one of the finest libraries in England.
James Carley quotes John Leland, Henry VIIIs unofficial antiquarian general and an expert on the book collections of England, 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”
A marvelous quotation from a fourteenth century Benedictine Abbot is given in the novel ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco
“A monastery without books is like a state without power, a fortress without troops, a kitchen without equipment, a meal without food, a garden without plants, a meadow without flowers, a tree without leaves...”
With the dissolution of the monastery, all the books of this great library were destroyed or disbursed.
In the late twentieth century Glastonbury was re-emerging as a centre of pilgrimage and spiritual awareness. There was a feeling that what the Abbey had stood for was trying to re-emerge, but in a totally different form that would be appropriate to the present time. The Abbey was being recreated - but what was an abbey without a spiritual library?
This was the thought that inspired the formation of the Avalon Library.
The original vision of the members interested in the broader aspect of the library was that it would be the focus of a great centre of learning, interested in all aspects of human growth, spirituality and the raising of consciousness. The library would eventually have its own buildings with space for the books and collection of tapes, films and manuscripts; and with rooms for lectures, research, reading and offices. It would have all the most modern equipment needed to carry out its work.
It would deliver a range of services including lending books, providing a highly professional research facility, organising lectures, seminars and workshops, publication of new books, tapes and videos and printing of key books that were no longer in print.
To enable it to carry out these functions, the library would need to accept gifts of books. It would also need a clear idea of which books it needed to complete its collections and to actively obtain the missing volumes, either as gifts or by purchase.
To carry out these functions, the library would need some paid staff but would seek to do as much of the work as possible with the help of suitably qualified volunteers.
This bold vision, was never recorded fully in writing, but was the one that inspired the original members. Everyone knew that it would take time to achieve but it was believed to be possible.
November 1989 – at a meeting of the Association, the longer term vision of the Library was discussed by the members. The original vision was reflected in the minutes of the meeting which stated that the vision was for:
A central administration facility equipped with all the latest library collating and storage equipment. The central facility would support a number of specialised libraries, possibly in their own rooms. These specialised rooms would include an Arthur room and one on British Myth and Legend.
The Theme of the Library would be LOVE, LEARNING and EXCELLENCE.
We would endeavor to apply this theme to all our activities.
Other key points:
- There should be seminars, symposia and workshops – it was essential that the library was alive.
- It should offer facilities for spiritual and intellectual development.
- It should be international with specialist sections in other languages with a view to attracting overseas visitors to Glastonbury.
- We should offer educational facilities to schools
- It should include tapes and video films
- It should support and encourage authors.
- It should ideally have a room in which lectures could be held and videos shown. Ideally have a room in which lectures could be held and films and videos shown.
At this meeting, it was agreed that the library should investigate the costs involved in such a project and possible sources of funding.
The book collection was started with the opening of the first library room by Geoffrey Ashe donating the original box of books that had been held in the Assembly Rooms. The new members started to gift books and gifts were received from a number of publishers including the Lucis Trust.
At the end of the first year in July 1989 the library had 200 books. New books continued to flow in at the rate of between 600 and 1,300 per year and by the end of 1995 the library had 5,200 books. This rate has continued steadily and by mid-2007 the library had 13,000 books.
It is worth repeating that all these books have been donated by the public, by publishers, collectors and by members. No books have been bought.
The subjects covered include
- A very large collection of titles on Arthurian, mythology and related subjects.
- A large fiction section, containing novels which fit in with the "spirit" of the Library: fantasy, science-fiction, mythology, history.
- An extensive section on esoteric subjects such as astrology, occult teachings, reincarnation, divination and prophecy, channelled communications, clairvoyance, etheric beings, astral projection and clairvoyance;
- Almost 1,000 titles on religion and comparative religion, Oriental religion and philosophy, Christianity, Paganism and Wicca, indigenous peoples, etc.
- A wide range of books on the history ,myths and legends of Somerset and Glastonbury
Most of the books may be borrowed by members, but there are also a number of ‘reference only’ sections including the collections of R.I.L.K.O (Research into Lost Knowledge Organisation) and of the ‘Wessex Research Network.
The library is currently researching its collection to ascertain which sections are incomplete and is starting to seek copies of the missing books.
As far as the books are concerned, the library has fully materialised the original vision of the founder members.
Formation of the Avalon Library Association
In the late 1970s, the Arthurian author Geoffrey Ashe and others including Helene Koppejan, had the idea of creating a library of British myth and legend. They each donated a few books and this small collection found a temporary home in the newly-emerging Glastonbury Assembly Rooms around 1980. Nothing much further happened
In 1987 David Taylor called together a number of people interested in the possibility of establishing a "Library of British Legend" to be based around British Myth and Romance. Various meetings were convened and resulted in the decision to form an association.
July 5th 1988 – The Library of Avalon Association was formed. This was an association of members who formally elected trustees to be responsible for running the affairs of the association, at the Annual General meeting. At this meeting the first provisional trustees were appointed, their appointment to be confirmed at the AGM. These trustees were Phillipa Bowers, Terry Walsh, Pete Woodcock, David Taylor and Mo Wilette.
The new association did not yet have premises and only three boxes of books. The trustees met several time but initial support faded and the project looked like it would not succeed with its narrow field of interest.
Barry Taylor and Kathy Jones decided to take on the project broadening its scope to include such diverse contemporary subjects as Healing; Sacred Geometry; Psychology; Goddess Spirituality; Astrology; the Environment; Sacred Art; Comparative Religion; and Spiritual & Religious Paths as well as the original subject of British Legend.
This expanded focus meant that the library might become a true successor to the great library of the Abbey. The concept of widening the scope of the library attracted a number of new potential members and reinvigorated the idea of bringing a real library into being.
November 30th 1988 – The first Annual General Meeting of the Library of Avalon Association was held at which 22 people were present. A majority of those present had not been involved in setting up the association.
At the meeting Geoffrey Ashe was elected as Patron and six new trustees were appointed. These being: Kathy Jones (Chair), Barry Taylor (Treasurer), Dawn Wilson-Singer (Company Secretary), Helen Koppejan, Chris Simpson and Lin Hennessey. It is an indication of the fundamental change of policy that had taken place since the formation of the association that none of the original trustees stood for re-election.
This meeting passed the following interesting resolution
“That this Association resolves to form itself into a company limited by guarantee and to then register itself as a charity known as the Avalon Library Association”
31st March 1995 – The library held an AGM in which there was put forward the proposal to become a division of the Isle of Avalon Foundation, thus enabling the library to be supported on an ongoing basis. The resolution was passed unanimously, but was never, however, actually put into effect.
1996 The idea of registering the library as a charity had been looked at in the previous eight years but no real progress had been made. During 1996 Keith Pickett and Kristen Lindop carried out detailed discussions with the charity commissioners with a view to deciding upon a possible charitable constitution. As a result of these negotiations it was decided to continue with the library as an association and not to form it as a company limited by guarantee. A new constitution was agreed with the Charity Commission.
18th April 1997 - At this AGM the new constitution was presented to the members and it was resolved that the library should accept this constitution and be constituted as a charitable unincorporated association. This finally severed any potential links with the Isle of Avalon Foundation.
The library was registered as a charity later in the year. The first trustees of the charity were Chris Makepeace (Chair), Sue Barnett (Treasurer), Kristen Lindop (Secretary) and Nigel Breen. Hence the library continues to be solely reliant on funding from its own activities and donations, along with continuing support with rental from the Glastonbury Trust.
5th May 2016 – On this date, the most recent AGM was held, where Izzy Cadbury was re-elected Chair, Andy Scott as Treasurer, Richard Newman as Secretary and Gareth Mills and Penny Billington as Trustees.
4th August 1988 - The library moved into its first premises - one small room at the back of the first floor of 8a Market Place Glastonbury. This room overlooked the rear courtyard of the Glastonbury Experience complex (GE). This has been accepted as the formal starting date of the Library.
January 12th 1989 - The library had outgrown this one small room and on this date it moved into the larger front room on the first floor of 8a Market Place which the GE had made available. This was an attractive room overlooking the Market Place which provided space for the expanding book collection and was a room in which to hold symposia. Helene Koppejan installed extensive shelving and the library was able to settle into a manageable space. The original room was renamed the Sophia Room and was used for talks and symposia.
January 2002 after a couple more maneuverings during the ‘90’s the finally Library moved to the Rear Courtyard of the GE. The GE removed the dividing walls between what had been the Brigit Chapel and private offices and these new premises had the advantage of being on the ground floor whilst still being within the GE. The library had almost come full circle as it was now directly beneath the small room in which it had been started. This is the room in which the library is today established.
14th August 2014 – One Thursday morning in the summer a sudden flash-flood devastated the library, destroying about 2,000 books, putting it out of action for several months. Due to the valiant efforts of new trustee, Richard Newman, with all the other trustees and volunteers pitching in as well, the library resumed activities after a special re-opening ceremony on 2nd February 2015 (and complete with magnificent new wooden shelving and the return to the ancient flagstone floor!). And the library continues in fine form, still within its current rejuvenated premises, in the present time.
From the earliest days the library has arranged symposia. These are evenings where a glass of wine and snack is offered and a modest entry fee charged. The evening usually starts with a half hour presentation by two individuals followed by a general exchange of views on the subject concerned In the early days these symposia were popular, given at least six times a year and attended by twenty to thirty people. They made a modest but useful contribution to the income of the library and helped generate a feeling of community and support for the library. In recent years there have been fewer of these events possibly because there are nowadays so many similar events being staged by other organisations in Glastonbury.
A wide range of subjects were covered .which included, amongst many others:
- Images of the Goddess in Britain
- Glastonbury Myth and Archaeology
- Mary Magdalene
- Beltane Fire
- Astrological Degree symbolism
- The Grail Quest in the New Age
- Dion Fortune
- Fairie Faith
- The Glastonbury Zodiac
- Creative Visualisation and the Inner Journey
- Umberto Ecco, 'The Name of the Rose', 1983.