Avalon (/ˈævəˌlɒn/; Latin: Insula Avallonis, Old French Avalon, Welsh: Ynys Afallon, Ynys Afallach; literally meaning "the isle of fruit [or apple] trees") is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 pseudo-historical account Historia regum Britanniae ("The History of the Kings of Britain") as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Avalon was associated from an early date with mystical practices and people such as Morgan le Fay.
Original Usage Edit
Avalon is first mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s pseudo-historical Historia regum Britanniae (c. 1136) as ‘‘Insula Avallonis’’ and is where King Arthur’s magical sword Caliburnus was forged. He also states it was the place where Arthur was taken to be treated for his wounds after the battle of Camlann. Geoffrey expands on this in his Vita Merlini (c. 1150) naming Arthur’s final resting place ‘‘Insula Pomorum’’ - the Island of Apples. He also equated this with The Fortunate Isle, a place ruled by nine sisters, the chief one being the highly skilled healer, Morgan le Fay. It is clear from Geoffrey’s two separate accounts that Avalon and the Island of Apples are one and the same. It is also clear from his description that a sea voyage was necessary to arrive at Avalon.
In Thomas Malory’s later account, Arthur was taken by barge to the Vale of Avalon by the chief Lady of the Lake (= Nyneve, Vivien), Morgan le Fay and two other queens – the Queen of the Waste Lands and the Queen of North Galis (see image above). Various authors such as Malory, Wace and Layamon allude to the belief that Arthur didn’t actually die in Avalon and would, one day, return when needed most.
Avalon and GlastonburyEdit
Many locations have been put forward as the site of the ‘real’ Avalon, first mentioned in Geoffrey’s pseudo-historical document. The most famous of these was Glastonbury in Somerset, England, originally known in Welsh as ‘‘Ynys Witrin’’ – the Isle of Glass. In the fifth/sixth century, the Glastonbury Tor was like an island as it was surrounded by marshlands until these were later drained. About 1190, the monks at Glastonbury Abbey declared they had discovered the burial site of Arthur and Guinevere, complete with a leaden cross and an inscription. There are a number of different accounts regarding what the actual inscription stated but, in general, the Glastonbury grave is not regarded as authentic. No trace of the bodily remains (which were reburied) or the leaden cross was ever found. Rather, it was most likely an attempt by the monks to raise money to repair the abbey which had been decimated by fire six years previously. It is also known that the monks tampered with previous accounts by historian, William of Malmesbury, in attempts to show Arthurian connections with Glastonbury. However, later romance writers such as Robert de Boron, cultural historians such as Geoffrey Ashe, and even recent novelists including Marion Zimmer Bradley have connected Glastonbury with Avalon. This has resulted in Glastonbury being today a popular tourist destination and significant site for followers of Druidism, Paganism and New Age disciplines. This Glastonbury-Avalon association has flourished despite the original descriptions by Geoffrey of Monmouth indicating that a sea voyage was required to reach the isle of Avalon.
Modern Suggestions for AvalonEdit
Over the years, countless locations have been put forward as possible sites for Avalon. Islands such as Bardsey Island (in Wales), St Michael’s Mount (in Cornwall), the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea), the Isle of Arran (western Scotland), and the Isle of May (eastern Scotland) have been proposed by various authors. Mainland locations suggested (again, despite Geoffrey’s ‘island in the sea’ description) have included Avallon (in France), Baschurch (in Shropshire) and Burgh by Sands (in Cumbria) which, in ancient times, was the site of the Roman fort of Abbalava on Hadrian’s Wall.