|Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > Arthurian Articles > August Hunt (14)|
The tradition that the Arthur of legend was buried at Glastonbury is a well-established one. But certain problems regarding the account of the exhumation of the great king's bones in 1190 A.D. have called into question the veracity of the tradition. It now seems unlikely that Glastonbury, while still an ancient sacred site, is the real Isle of Avalon, and that we had best look elsewhere in Britain for this Celtic Otherworld localization.
Some odd details surround the "discovery" of King Arthur's grave at Glastonbury. These details have been discussed at length before by scholars, but the conclusions drawn from them have varied. First, a 6th century Arthur (the usual date ascribed to his floruit) would have had his grave marked by a stone bearing Roman capitals. The formula of the inscription (see Leslie Alcock's ARTHUR'S BRITAIN) would have been something like
HIC SEPVLTVS IACIT ARTVRIVS
Instead, the monks at Glastonbury claimed to have found a lead cross buried beneath the coffin cover. Drawings of this cross reveal the form and content of the inscription (HIC IACET SEPVLTVS INCLITUS REX ARTVRIVS IN INSULA AVALONIA/"Here lies buried the famous king Arthur in the isle of Avalon") to be of the tenth century, not the sixth century. This would seem puzzling, were it not for the fact that 12th century monks could easily forge an inscription in such a way as to make it seem to be from an earlier period. We know that they did this with manuscripts.
An alternate theory has been proposed (again see Alcock): that the grave was originally discovered in 945 A.D., when St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury, erected a masonry wall around the cemetary and had the area raised. At this time the original stone marker would have been removed, and the lead cross fashioned and placed inside the coffin. The whole was then covered over and forgotten, only to be rediscovered in 1190.
The objection to this theory is that so remarkable a discovery in the 10th century would certainly have been recorded. Furthermore, the grave of a worthy such as Arthur would have been marked in such a way as to be readily noticeable to future generations, i.e. it would not have been left unmarked with a mere lead cross placed within the coffin. Furthermore, I been unable to find other recorded instances in which such a cross or similar inscribed memorial object has been found inside an ancient coffin.
All in all, the theory that Arthur was reburied, but his grave left unmarked, is not acceptable. This being the case, we must reluctantly admit that in all likelihood the Glastonbury burial of King Arthur is a forgery. The possible financial and political reasons for committing such a forgery have been mentioned elsewhere.
We should also make mention of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Malvasius of Iceland. This Malvasius is the Melwas placed at Glastonbury in Caradoc of Llancarfan's LIFE OF GILDAS. It is strange that no one has asked why Geoffrey would have put Melwas in Iceland if he knew Glastonbury was Avalon. Morgan herself could be thought of as one of the male Morgans found in the pedigree of Glast, the eponymous founder of Glastonbury. But, if so, why is she placed at Avalon, while Melwas is placed in Iceland?
Iceland is Geoffrey's misreading of the Glas- of Glastonbury as being derived from L. glacies, "ice". Had he known Morgan was associated with Glastonbury, he would have put her in Iceland as well. Thus, Geoffrey's Avalon is not Glastonbury. It has been remarked before that Geoffrey nowhere in his works identifies Avalon with Glastonbury.
On Hadrian's Wall, which forms the dividing line between England and Lowland Scotland, there are two Roman forts of particular interest to students of Arthurian legend. One, at Castlesteads, was called Camboglanna. This Old Celtic name lies at the root of the modern Welsh placename Camlann, the site of Arthur's death in 537 A.D. according to the Welsh Annals. If Camboglanna is where Arthur died, then it is certainly not a coincidence that the only place in Britain known anciently as Avalon is located further west along the Wall at Burgh-by-Sands.
The Aballava fort, now on the edge of marshland near the Solway Firth, was referred to in the early RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY as Avalana. This placename means, literally, the "place of apples". Camboglanna is on the Irthing, a tributary of the Eden River. The Eden empties into the Solway Firth very near Aballava/Avalana. A dedication to the goddess Latis was found at Aballava, offered by a certain Lucius Ursius (Ursius is from L. ursus, "bear"; cf. W. arth, "bear", often cited as the first component of Arthur's name). She is the goddess of open bodies of fresh water, a literal "Lady of the Lake".
An Arthur who fell at Camboglanna could have been brought down the river system in this region or carted along the Roman road to this "Avalon". The Avalon of Geoffrey of Monmouth (see below) is a relocation of the Aballava fort near Camboglanna.
The inscriptions found
at Avallana may be significant in this regard, as two,
perhaps three Urs- or "bear" names are present
(Urseius, Matusius, from Celtic *matu-, "bear",
and possibly Ursinianus). The Welsh associated
Arthurs name with their own word arth,
"bear". In one remarkable inscription a man by
the name of Lucius Urseius or Lucius "the Bear"
makes a dedication to Dea Latis, the "Goddess of the
Lake". This sounds suspiciously like the Lady of the
Lake of Arthurian romance, who is in some versions of the
story a denizen of Avalon. King Arthurs sword was
supposed to have been forged in Avalon and was returned
to the Lady of the Lake upon his death.
I would add that it may be possible to identify the Niviane/Viviane given as the name of the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian romances.
In Welsh tradition, Nyfain (variants Nyuein, Nyven, Nevyn) daughter of Brychan is the name given to the mother of Urien. As is well known, the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog was of Irish foundation.
Nyfain cannot, as some might thing, be an eponym for the ancient Novantae tribe, whose territory (roughly Dumfries and Galloway) was ruled over by Urien. The identification is etymologically impossible. But the name could very early easily represent the Irish goddess Nemhain. Nemhain was one of the premiere battle-goddesses of Ireland, and was often paired with Macha, Morrigan and Badb. According to a tract called "Mothers of Irish Saints", Brychan had a wife Dina. This wife's name adequetely explains the intrusion of the goddess Diana and Dyonas into the story of Niviane (see the Vulgate "Merlin" 28).
Urien himself was married to Modron, i.e. Matrona, the Mother Goddess, daughter of Aballach, a personification of the Irish Ablach, from Emhain Ablach, the apple tree otherworld. In this case, Aballach is to be visualized as the king of Avalon, i.e. of the Aballava fort at the west end of Hadrian's Wall, just across the Solway from the homeland of Urien.
Emhain Ablach, chiefly because it was associated in Irish tradition with the god Mannanan mac Lir, was wrongly identified with the Isle of Man. Another theory holds that this Otherworld is, in reality, the island of Arran. However, the only important apple-place which actually bears an apple name is Aballava/Avallana, which is geographically situated roughly between the Isle of Man and Arran. Emhain means twins (from proto-Celtic *jemno-, twin), as the folk etymology story attached to the Irish royal site Emhain Macha makes clear. In the case of Emhain Macha, the twins reference is almost certainly to the two mounds atop the hill-fort, designated by archaeologists as Sites A and B. Both sites were once surmounted by large, timber-built structures, constructed in several phases (see Barry Rafterys Pagan Celtic Ireland, pp. 74-79). If I am right and these two mounds are the twins of Macha, then it is probably not a coincidence that there were two Roman forts at Aballava. Burgh By Sand I was at Hill Farm, on the Roman road which runs along a ridge to the Kirkbride fort. Burgh By Sand II was on the hill to the south of Burgh village, but was replaced by the later Wall fort. These two forts at Aballava may well be the twins of Emhain Ablach.
I would mention the Locus Maponi (which in Rivet and Smith's _The Place-Names of Roman Britain_ is rendered the Loch or LAKE of Mabon), identifiable with Lochmaben in Dumfries. As is well known, Mabon was the son of Modron. This is the same Modron who is presented as the wife of Urien, son of Nyfain/Nemhain.
While it is tempting to give Modron the 'Divine Mother' the name Nemhain, we are not justified in making this assumption. And, indeed, given the proximity of Lochmaben to the Annan River, and the presence of a St. Ann's on a tributary of the Annan which has its confluence with the latter river at Lochmaben, it makes more sense to associate Modron/Matrona "the Divine Mother" with a British version of the Irish goddess Anu. According to Rivet and Smith, Annan is "the genitive of anau, cognate with Welsh anaw 'riches' and Gaelic anu... Anu was an Irish goddess of prosperity." It is interesting that Anu's Christian counterpart, St. Ann, present near the Annan and Lochmaben, also replaced the goddess Arnemetia at Buxton, the site of Arthur's Mount Badon battle. I would add that the only name we have for the mother of Medrawt is "Anna", supposedly the sister of Arthur.
This Anna's husband is said to be Llew (Geoffrey of Monmouth's Loth of Lodonesia), i.e. the god Lleu. In Welsh tradition, the youthful god Lleu and Mabon the divine son were both placed in death at the same place (Nantle in Gwynedd). Nikolai Tolstoy (in his _The Quest for Merlin_) thought this implied an identification of the two gods. Of course, we have the god Lleu's name at Carlisle/Luguvalium, the fort and town of someone called Luguvalos, "Lugus-strong". There is no reason, therefore, to look for Llew in Lothian, nor at Loudoun in Strathclyde (which according to Watson is from a Lugudunum, "Lugus's fort"), nor at Dinlleu ("Fort of Lleu") in Gwynedd. Probably it is not necessary to search for the unlocated Lugudunum somewhere near Wearmouth and Chester-le-Street (see Rivet and Smith's _The Place-Names of Roman Britain_). Medrawt may have originated from the Annandale of Anu/Anna and Lleu in the person of Mabon. Nyfain would then be Niviane, Lady of the Lake, i.e. she of the Lake of Mabon, the youthful Sun God. However, clearly the marshes around Aballava were also sacred to Nyfain and it is to this lake goddess that the dedication was made at the Burgh-By-Sands fort. One further piece of evidence should be presented in support of the notion that Nyfain is the Arthurian Niviane.
In the Vulgate _Merlin_, the forest name of the Lady of the Lake is first given as the Forest of Briosque and only later as Broceliande, the name used by Chretien de Troyes. While Broceliande has been sought in various places (including Brittany), I would derive the Old French 'Briosque' from the -fries component of Dumfries, the town situated just WSW of Lochmaben in Dumfriesshire. While once thought to be the "Fort of the Frisians", authorities beginning with Chalmers (see Watson) correctly identified -fries with Gaelic preas, Angl. pres(s), gen. phris, Angl. -fries, gen. pl. preas, (b)p(h)reasach, "bush, copse, thicket".
To quote from _History of the Burgh of Dumfries_, Chapter 1:
"In the earliest charter to the town, still extant that of Robert III., dated 28th April, 1395 the appellation given is Burgi de Dumfreiss, a form of spelling which, with one s omitted, continued in vogue till about 1780. During the reign of Alexander III. and the long interregnum which followed, the form nearly resembled that of the present day the prefix being generally Dun or Dum, rather than Drum: thus, in a contemporary representation made to the English Government respecting the slaughter of John Comyn in 1305, the locality is described as en leglise de Freres meneours de la ville de Dunfres; [Sir Francis Palgraves Documents and Records Illustrative of the History of Scotland, p. 335.] and, thirty years afterwards, we read of the appointment of an official as Vice Comitatus de Dumfres. [Rotuli Scotić, vol. i., p. 271.]
Such uncouth spellings of the name of Dunfreisch, Droonfreisch, and Drumfriesche, occasionally occur in old documents; but the variations are never so great as to leave any doubt as to the town that is meant; and nearly all more or less embody the idea of a castle in the shrubbery, [The only exception we have net with occurs in a Papal Bull issued against Bruce in 1320 for the homicide of Comyn, which is stated to have been perpetrated in the Minorite Church of Dynifes.] according to the etymology of Chalmers, which we accept as preferable to any other that has been suggested. [Chalmerss words are: This celebrated prefix Dunmust necessarily have been appropriated to some fortlet, or strength, according to the secondary signification of that ancient work. The phrysof the British speech, and the kindred phreas of the Scoto, signify shrubs: and the Dun-fres must consequently mean the castle among the shrubberies, or copsewood. Caledonia, vol. iii., p. 45."
It makes a great deal of sense to envisage Merlin and Viviane in the Dumfries region, as this was the home stomping grounds of Myrddin, the prototype for Geoffrey of Monmouth's Merlin. In all likelihood, Broceliande is simply Briosque + land. On cannot help wonder if we should associate the Lochmaben Stone of Nyfain's lake with the Arthurian sword-in-the-stone motif. The following is the CANMORE report on the Lochmabenstane from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland:
or Clochmaben Stone is an erratic, 7' high and 18' in
girth, which Feachem says may have been incorporated into
a megalithic monument, though there is no clear evidence
of this. It was published on the OS 1st edition 6"
as Druidical Circle (Remains of), which the Ordnance Name
Book [ONB] states formerly consisted of nine upright
stones placed in an oval, two of which remain, one being
locally called Lochmaben Stone.
The actual Roman period cemetary at Burgh-By-Sands/Aballava is said by Theo Bergstrom in Hadrians Wall: Handbook to the Roman Wall with the Cumbrian Coast and Outpost Forts (New York, 1984) to have been to the south of the fort. fragments of a tombstone of one Julius Pi[ ]linus a Dacian tribesman was found there.
When I enquired about this tombstone of Tim Padley at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, he mentioned two other fragments. All three are listed in the Roman Inscriptions of Britain as follows:
IVL PII... TINVS CIVES DACVS
D M S
Alas, according to Mr. Padley, a location of the cemetary to the south of the fort, puts it, in his words, near the vallum, possibly destroyed by the canal and railway. The tombstone fragments were in the care of Tullie House when they disappeared.
While it is impossible to know whether Arthur was buried in the Roman period cemetary of the Aballava fort, this cemetary must remain a primary candidate for the location of his grave.
In the ancient Irish story of Art son of Conn, King Conn and then his son Art voyage to an island called variously the Land of Promise (Tir Tairngiri) and the Land of Wonders (Tir na nIngnad). This island is distinguished by its "fair fragrant apple-trees", its "wild apples". The king of the Land of Wonders, who Art slays, is named Morgan.
The Land of Promise name, in the story of Eithne daughter of Curcog, is given as a synonym for Emhain or Emne Ablach, Ablach being the Old Irish word for apple trees.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in calling Insula Pomorum/Insula Avallonis/Isle of Avalon the "Fortunate" Isle, would seem to have been evoking an Otherworld identical to that which King Morgan ruled. Might not the name Art have been associated with Arthur's name?
The only problem with this theory is that we have to account for Geoffrey naming Morgan's kingdom Avallonis, when in the story it is called Tir na nIngnad, the "Land of Wonders".
To find Geoffrey of Monmouths Avalon, a relocation of the Aballava fort in Cumbria, it is necessary first to realize that this placename is Cornish and means, simply, "Apple-tree". The Old Cornish form of the word is auallen. Old Welsh is aballen and Breton aualen. The forms auallen and aballenn are recorded from the 12th century (information courtesy Andrew Hawke, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru).
If we follow the Cornish coast north from the Camel where Arthur supposedly was mortally wounded, we arrive at Appledore, situated on a neck of land or headland jutting out into the confluence of the Taw and Torridge Rivers. According to Eilart Ekwall, this town was le Apildore in 1335 AD. The name is Old English and means... "Apple-tree". The Appledore in Kent has an identical origin, but much earlier recorded forms: Apuldre 893 (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), Apeldres (Domesday Book).
Obviously, the Cornish name "Avalon" (Geoffreys Avallonis almost certainly derives from Cornish auallen, apple-tree; cf. Breton avallen, Welsh afallen, Celtic *aballon-/apple-orchard) was a suitable substitution for the English name Appledore. The "Insula" or island of Avalon/Appledore is being used in the same sense as isle is used in Isle of Purbeck, Isle of Portland, or Isle of Thanet. In other words, Geoffreys Isle of Avalon is the neck of land or headland of Appledore.
It was to Appledore that Geoffrey has the wounded King Arthur brought.
The nine sisters placed on Avalon by Geoffrey of Monmouth would appear to be Irish goddesses. I have identified these "sisters" as follows:
One wonders whether Morgan, whose name means "Sea-born", was initially placed at Appledore because of the presence of St. Margaret at the early parish church at Bideford. Margaret is the Latin Marina, Greek Pelagia, "of the sea". While this medieval saint's dedication cannot be traced back as far as Geoffrey's time in our extant records, were she present during this period, Morgan/Morrigan may well have replaced her.
In closing, I would mention the Gallicenae of the island of Sena, mentioned thusly by Pomponius Mela:
"Sena in the British sea, opposite the Osismician coast, is remarkable for an oracle of the Gallic God. Its priestesses, holy in perpetual virginity, are said to be nine in number. They are called Gallicenae, and are thought to be endowed with singular powers, so as to raise by their charms the winds and seas, to turn themselves into what animals they will, to cure wounds and diseases incurable by others, to know and predict the future; but this they do only to navigators who go thither purposely to consult them."
Various origins for the term Gallicenae have been sought, but I think none of them very satisfactory. This is, rather transparently, a form of the Gaelic cailleachan, who were hags or witches possessing the power to conjure up storms, etc. If I am right with this interpretation, then the name for the priestesses of Sena or the Ill de Sein at the western extremity of Brittany must have come from an Irish source.
Avalon is Copyright © 2005, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: August Hunt
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