2005 Student Research Conference:
18th Annual Student Research Conference

Language & Literature

King Arthur at Glastonbury Abbey: A Study of the Saint Cult and the Promotion of Secular Patronage
Sharity D. Nelson
Dr. Christine Harker, Faculty Mentor

The financial incentive for twelfth-century English monasteries to foster saint cults is well attested. At Glastonbury Abbey, particularly, the urge to claim a prominent figure resulted in an anomalous construction of secular sainthood. The legendary King Arthur provided Glastonbury a popular figure who could corroborate the ancient and distinguished claims of the abbey. Additionally, Arthur lacked solid historic documentation, which allowed the monks to create a suitably august pseudo-history of the abbey, substantiating Arthur’s presence and capturing public interest. In analyzing the precedence set forth by founding legends, strong local memory, the Celtic cult, and the political climate induced by the Norman Conquest, this study examines the elevation of Arthur to the status of a saint at Glastonbury. Glastonbury Abbey's Arthurian claim demonstrates a religious institution utilizing a secular figure to its advantage, augmenting the person of Arthur by adding yet another facet of “history” to his already extensive legend.

Keywords: King Arthur, Glastonbury Abbey, Saint Cults, Celtic Cult, Norman Invasion, Founding Legends, Secular Sainthood, 12th Century England

Topic(s):English

Presentation Type: Oral Paper

Session: 52-4
Location: VH 1320
Time: 4:30

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