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King Arthur's Grave

Article #225 • Written by Stephanie Benson

This article was written by Stephanie Benson, one of our shiny new Damn Interesting writers.

The legend of King Arthur is an enduring one, so popular that it has been shared for centuries. The earliest accounts are simple: A heroic king rescues his country. The story evolved over the centuries, and further elements such as Camelot, the Round Table, and Merlin were added in for flavor. Some versions of the legend state that Arthur did not truly die, but rather that he was put in an enchanted sleep-- and it is said that he will return again in an hour of great need.

For hundreds of years the Arthur story has been retold in its various forms, though even ancient historians considered it nothing more than a myth. But in the twelfth century, evidence surfaced that suggested that one of history's most popular figures might have been more than a mere legend.

In the year 1190, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in England announced an incredible discovery. According to historical record, the monks began to experience dreams and visions about King Arthur around that time, which prompted them to consult with King Henry II (AD 1133-1189). Henry informed them of a long-kept secret of the royal family: Arthur’s remains were buried in the churchyard of St. Dunstan in Glastonbury. A search was soon commissioned.

Upon excavating the indicated area, the searchers unearthed a massive oak trunk, buried sixteen feet deep just as Henry had described. Inside was a human skeleton which confirmed that they had discovered something special. It was absolutely gigantic. It appeared to be much taller than an average man, and the space between the eye sockets was as wide as the palm of a man’s hand. Apparently, this famous king was truly larger than life.

This skeleton was not alone in its coffin. Alongside it was a second, lying next to a plait of blonde hair. The identities of the two remains were described on an archaic lead cross which was found nearby, inscribed with the Latin message "Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia," meaning "Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon."

All in all, this was exciting stuff. Men and women flocked to Glastonbury from the surrounding regions, and King Henry II interred the ancient bones. Glastonbury soon became wealthy from the offerings and alms given by those who made the pilgrimage, and few questioned the authenticity of the find. Indeed, a few decades earlier the contemporary historian Geoffrey of Monmouth had claimed that Glastonbury was built on the site of ancient Avalon.

It turns out that Arthur's grave was not the first historically significant discovery made by the monks of Glastonbury. In 1184, they had allegedly found the remains of St. Patrick. However, this claim failed to convince most people, since it was widely believed that St. Patrick had been buried in Ireland. Soon after this incident, the monks of the town had found the bones of famed Saint Dunstan. This discovery, too, was not widely believed. Though St. Dunstan had begun his career in Glastonbury, he ultimately relocated to Canterbury and had been buried there.

It was several years later that the monks found the grave of King Arthur. The discovery was fortuitous, because the monastery was rumored to be in financial trouble. In 1184, the monastic building and church of Glastonbury had been razed to the ground in a fire, leaving the monks of the town in dire monetary straits. However, if an abbey were in possession of a sacred relic, then it would be assured revenue. People would visit from far and wide to see pieces of the cross, clothes and objects of the saints… and bones. King Arthur was not a religious figure, but as one of the foremost heroes in legendary history, his remains attracted a great deal of medieval tourists.

While the circumstances of the discovery cast it in a suspicious light, the story was supported by King Henry II King Edward, who had succeeded Henry III and who had no need for money. But he may have had political motives in backing such a hoax; England was being ruled by Norman conquerors. The Saxons generally accepted these rulers, but those belonging to the Celtic fringes did not. Among those who revolted against the Norman invaders, it was widely believed that Arthur would one day return and fend off the invaders. With proof that the Celts’ savior was truly dead, Edward would secure a greater hold on his subjects. He interred the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, symbolically aligning his reign with that of England’s most famous hero and putting the matter to rest.

Taken all together, the evidence strongly suggests that the grave of King Arthur was just an elaborate hoax, designed to benefit several parties. Unfortunately the bones and the cross went missing centuries ago, so the evidence cannot be examined using modern techniques. But if they are ever rediscovered, even if they prove to be forgeries, these artifacts would be an interesting testament to the enduring legacy of political trickery and propaganda.

Article written by Stephanie Benson, published on 23 October 2006. Stephanie is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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29 Comments
Hayley
Posted 23 October 2006 at 05:45 am

Aaaaaah! All this does is make me want to know if it was really him or not! Interesting article though.


Ian
Posted 23 October 2006 at 06:37 am

How could the Monks consult with Henry II in 1190 if he died in 1189?


Dreamsinabadger
Posted 23 October 2006 at 06:39 am

Apparently King Arthur is the third most influential person who never lived, according to USA Today this month. Right below Big Brother and above Santa Claus...

http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-10-16-influential-people-list_x.htm


Frank
Posted 23 October 2006 at 06:57 am

The sign in the photo says the remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I.


lennon860
Posted 23 October 2006 at 07:00 am

Dreamsinabadger said: "Apparently King Arthur is the third most influential person who never lived, according to USA Today this month. Right below Big Brother and above Santa Claus…

Well if USA Today says King Arthur is a fictional character then I am convinced that he is real.


Stephanie Benson
Posted 23 October 2006 at 07:47 am

Ian said: "How could the Monks consult with Henry II in 1190 if he died in 1189?"

They can if the author makes a typo ;)


CravenMorhead
Posted 23 October 2006 at 07:48 am

Ian said: "How could the Monks consult with Henry II in 1190 if he died in 1189?"

Easy. After dreams and visions and other 'Mystical' suggestions. They talked with Henry II about it. Before he died. Then in the day of Edward I the body of Arthur was found. Things worked slowly in the middle ages.

CM


1c3d0g
Posted 23 October 2006 at 07:59 am

Hmm...very interesting. So, if this is all true, King Arthur must have been gigantic. I love reading about people with extra-ordinary physical capabilities. Damn, I really wish we knew where these bones were placed/hidden/buried so they could be examined.


ianmccurdy
Posted 23 October 2006 at 09:30 am

I have been to this site, beautiful area.


HarleyHetz
Posted 23 October 2006 at 09:38 am

Fine job Stephanie, keep 'em coming!! :)


mercuryswitch
Posted 23 October 2006 at 11:52 am

Yay! A new writer! Welcome, Stephanie!


Dave Group
Posted 23 October 2006 at 01:08 pm

Any attempts to find the remains were thwarted by the knights who say "Ni!".


Bolens
Posted 23 October 2006 at 01:46 pm

And that rabbit is dynamite. Welcome aboard Stephanie, ...DI!


Didoka
Posted 23 October 2006 at 04:01 pm

Can someone tell me how to write an article? I'd love to write one. No need to pay me or any of that stuff. Please answer.


qbert48
Posted 23 October 2006 at 04:31 pm

nice work and DI i say good show and keep em' coming


Ironclaw
Posted 23 October 2006 at 06:16 pm

Any lakes near there? Anyone got a metal detector?


Drakvil
Posted 23 October 2006 at 11:09 pm

Stephanie - good job, you picked a real attention grabber to start off your DI career.

Since you made a typo in the article and have the monks consulting with Henry II a year after he died, how about having Alan make your corrections to the article so we can tell what you meant to type? I'm curious about that part of the story.


Illustrator
Posted 24 October 2006 at 12:09 am

King Arthur is my uncle.

He's always away fighting battles
or trying to gather all my other
uncles so that they could all agree
on what was more important,
getting rid of the Saxons or
ordering a pizza.

That was a fun article
and the pizza was quite tasty.


Kuz_Sam
Posted 24 October 2006 at 05:03 am

We are an anarchocindicalist commune... we sort of take it in turns at being executive officer for the week and all decisions made by that officer are ratified at a bi-weekly meeting by two thirds majority in case of pure internal affairs and by three quarters majority in the case of external affairs... "shut up u bloody peasent"


Didoka
Posted 24 October 2006 at 06:15 pm

Nobody answered someone please answer me. how do i submit an article?


Bolens
Posted 24 October 2006 at 06:42 pm

Didoka said: "Nobody answered someone please answer me. how do i submit an article?"

Go to the top of the website page. Choose "sections" then choose "uncategorized." In that grouping of articles you will see information listed on becoming a writer for this site. Keep in mind that proper punctuation and capitalization are but two requirements of a quality article. Also that the deadline was July 15, 2006.


Didoka
Posted 27 October 2006 at 08:56 pm

damn! too bad you cant just write them one article


Prince
Posted 28 October 2006 at 01:49 am

Sign says 1191 was when bodys found, Author de la article says 1190, which is correct?

P.S nice article, DI


mayme
Posted 30 November 2006 at 05:31 pm

You know that part about his wierd body proportions made me wonder, maybe he was an alien...
We should make another movie now, King Arthur as an alien and Merlin as his android assistent


King Randall
Posted 31 December 2006 at 04:45 am

Regarding of the handbreadth betwixt his ocluar sockets, did you know that if your hand is bigger than your face, you most likely have cancer? *SMACK!* Haha geez guy! What were you, raised in a cave!? How could you not have seen that coming? Sick burn.


xXCrusnikWingsXx
Posted 21 January 2007 at 01:16 pm

Well, I wish I could reply to this with complex words and an intelligent view on the subject. But sadly I am young and my vocabulary is limited ;-;. I am obsessive over King Arthur stuff- I want to go see that tomb site sometime D:


John Clark
Posted 03 January 2014 at 01:15 pm

Watch this space. Not too far from Cadbury.


Guy Sloop
Posted 18 January 2014 at 10:07 pm

All made up to help raise money for the church, King Arthur was not buried here,that's why you don't have the bones, because there was none. he is buried in Wales, where he was from, at one of the oldest churches in Wales, St.Peters., I've read and research about King Arthur for years, my Dads side came from Wales. I've read this story plenty of times, no truth to it.


Dorothy
Posted 29 December 2014 at 10:20 am

I cherish the story of King Arthur even if it is fiction and not fact.
It is an inspiration to do good, and fight evil.


END OF COMMENTS
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