12th August 1827. Yearning for past Glories.
‘And was Jerusalem builded here in England’s green and pleasant land’.
Today in 1827 the mystic visionary, William Blake, the Soho born poet, painter and engraver and known as ‘the Cockney Nutcase’, died penurious and unrecognised apart from his patron John Linnell.(1)
Blake was to inspire the ‘Ancients’, painters such as Samuel Palmer between 1804 and 1820, in particular with his ‘Jerusalem’, the last and longest of his surviving writings on which he etched, ‘Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Giant Albion’.
It is with Blake’s Jerusalem (later set to Parry’s music), that we see the mythology that Jesus came to Glastonbury, Wiltshire, said to be the home of the thorn planted by Joseph of Arimathea.
Glastonbury was identified with the ancient Isle of Avalon, the burial place of King Arthur, whose remains were ‘discovered’ in what must be our earliest archaeological dig in 1191, ordered by Abbot Henry.
This represents the first identification with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Avalon’, the paradise of Celtic mythology.
Legends had grown from the 10thc when this regional Wessex shrine with Celtic connections, became a national cult centre, with a mythology going back to the beginning of Christianity.
In the 8thc of Bede’s ‘History’-the founding text of the nation- all the most resonant holy places then lay outside Wessex, mainly in the north.
Now with the West Saxon kings claiming to be rulers of all England, Wessex, the early centre of British sanctity, now took precedence.
Soon its status was such that kings were buried there and by 1066 Glastonbury was the richest abbey in Britain, a significant centre in religious and political affairs of the pre-conquest, old English kingdom.
The Holy Grail legend by the 12thc appeared in romances by Chretien de Troyes and associated with the knightly quests of Arthur, Percival, Galahad and others of the Round Table.
This legend along with Robert de Boron’s, Joseph d’Arimathie, related to the chalice supposed to have been used by Christ at the Last Supper, and by which Joseph received the blood of Christ.
According to William of Malmesbury, Joseph brought this to Glastonbury, where he allegedly built the first church in England.
Then came the Monastic Dissolution and in 1539 Richard Whiting its last Abbot was hanged. In Elizabeth’s reign the site was sold off and became a quarry, but legend and romance survived.
The great revival in things Arthurian came with the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painters, obsessed with Gothic windows, flowing gowns, drooping females and angst; a looking back in dreamy nostalgia for past glory and heroism.
The new art of photography saw Julia Margaret Cameron, commissioned by the poet Alfred Tennyson to support his Tintagel-based Idylls of the King, with much chain-mail and other medieval accoutrements.
It was a theme taken up by the Oxford Movement in religion, with its revival of the Gothic in architecture, and a desire to return to the beauty, ritual and mysticism of the old religion.
(1) Blake is probably best known for his 1794 poem ‘Songs of Experience’, which includes the famous, ‘Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright…
Ref: wikipedia.org/nine_worthies/image of tapestry.
Ref: wikipedia.org/king_arthur/image of Painting.