Academics reconstruct Glastonbury Abbey church

This stunning image reveals for the first time how the Anglo-Saxon church on the site of Glastonbury Abbey would have looked in the eighth century.

It is one of a series of digital reconstructions created based on the archaeological evidence studied by a team led by award-winning University of Reading archaeologist Professor Roberta Gilchrist.

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 have been created as part of work to enhance the experience for visitors to the internationally-renowned site and help bring the history, heritage and legends to life.

An interactive map and the opportunity to explore the history through the recreations are due to be in-situ at the abbey’s museum in the autumn and new education resources will provide links to the National Curriculum.

Professor Gilchrist, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading and an abbey Trustee, is leading the year-long project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

It follows her study of the archaeological excavations that took place at the medieval abbey during the last century, revealing that the site was occupied during the time of the legendary King Arthur who is said to be buried at the abbey.


There were three phases of Saxon Churches discovered, beginning c AD 700. This image shows phase two and regular visitors will see that it abutted where the Lady Chapel ruins stand today and stands in what was to become the nave of the medieval abbey.

‘This work explains and connects the archaeology to the spiritual and legendary significance of Glastonbury Abbey’ — Professor Roberta Gilchrist

Working with the University of York Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, digital models have been created showing the scale of the churches and how the medieval abbey was built on those foundations.

Professor Gilchrist 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 that it was founded by Joseph of Arimathea.

“These Saxon churches lay to the east of the site of the legendary ‘Old Church,’ and beneath the nave of the later medieval church.

“In the second phase, shown on the digital reconstruction we have released 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.

Key Myths

Professor Gilchrist said: “This work explains and connects the archaeology to the spiritual and legendary significance of Glastonbury Abbey.

“The research has given us evidence to show the importance of particular spaces and how they are central to the key myths which surround Glastonbury Abbey.”

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 will be 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.”


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Markus Milligan
Markus Milligan
Markus Milligan - Markus is a journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,000 articles across several online publications. Markus is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW).



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