Avalon

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This article is about the mythical island. For other uses of the term Avalon, please see Avalon (disambiguation).

Avalon (from the Celtic word abal: apple) is a legendary island somewhere in the British Isles, famous for its beautiful apples. The concept of such an 'Isle of the Blessed' has parallels in other Indo-European mythology, in particular Tír na nÓg and the Greek Hesperides, the latter also noted for its apples.

Geographical location

Avalon is sometimes referred to as the legendary location where Jesus visited the British Isles with Joseph of Arimathea and that it was later the site of the first church in Britain. This location of the Isle of Avalon is usually associated with present day Glastonbury.

It is also said to be the place where the body of King Arthur is buried. He was supposedly brought there via boat by his half sister, Morgan le Fay. According to some legends Arthur merely sleeps there, to awaken at some future time.

According to one theory the word is an anglicisation of the Brythonic 'Annwyn', the realm of fairies, or netherworld, but this would be a major corruption. Geoffrey of Monmouth interpreted the name as the 'isle of apples'. This is more probable, since apple is still Aval in Breton and Cornish, and Afal in Welsh, in which the letter f is pronounced [v].

As early at least as the beginning of the 11th century the tradition that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Tor appears to have taken shape. Before the surrounding fenland in the Somerset Levels was drained, Glastonbury's high round bulk rose out of the water-meadows like an island. In the reign of Henry II, according to the chronicler Giraldus of Cambrai and others, the abbot Henry de Blois commissioned a search, apparently discovering at the depth of 5 m (16 feet) a massive oak trunk or coffin with an inscription Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia. ('Here lies King Arthur in the island of Avalon'). The remains were reinterred with great ceremony, attended by King Edward I and his queen, before the High Altar at Glastonbury Abbey, where they were the focus of pilgrimages until the Reformation. A nearby valley is named the Vale of Avalon.

However, the Glastonbury legend has frequently been perceived as a fraud due, among other things, to the perceived anachronistic inscription which would have been more fitting to the 10th century than the 6th, the lack of any mention of said discovery in the 10th century, which would not have gone unheard of, added to possible ulterior motives from the abbey. Other theories point to Ile Aval, on the coast of Brittany, and Burgh-by-Sands, in Cumberland, which was in Roman times the fort of Aballava on Hadrian's Wall, and near Camboglanna, upwards on the Eden, now Castlesteads. Coincidentally, the last battle site of Arthur's campaigns is said to have been named Camlann.

Others have claimed the most likely location to be St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall, which is near to other locations associated with the Arthurian legends. The matter is confused somewhat by similar legends and place names in Brittany. St Michael's Mount is an island which can be reached by a causeway at low tide.

In popular culture

Avalon is typically featured in the countless adaptations of Arthurian legend. Adaptations with special emphasis on Avalon include, The Mists of Avalon, Dragonheart, and Gargoyles. Singer/songwriter Van Morrison makes occasional references to Avalon in his music, including the 1989 record Avalon Sunset. Led Zeppelin refers to the 'apples of Avalon' in the song 'The Battle of Evermore', from their fourth album (a.k.a. Led Zeppelin IV).