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History of The Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury

Legend says that Joseph of Arimathea built a wattle Church when he came to these shores and, whether it is true or not, it is a historical fact that there was a very early Christian settlement here.

When the Saxons reached Glastonbury in AD 658, the "old Church" as it was known, was already standing, and dedicated to Our Lady.The so-called Charter of King Ina refers to the Wattle Church as the "Ecclesia Vetusta Beatissimae Virginis", the old Church of the most Blessed Virgin - also known as the "Lignea Basilica (the wooden church), and described it as "the foremost Church in Britain, the fount and source of all religion". The earliest reference to its dedication - to "Blessed Mary and Blessed Patrick" - however, is in a royal land grant which dates back possibly to AD681 - not long after the recently converted Saxons reached Glastonbury.

On 25th May 1184, not long after the completion of the Abbey, both Abbey and Church were burned to the ground in the "great Fire".

Very soon afterwards, on the same holy ground; a stone Church of the same dimensions was built and consecrated in AD 1186, it was dedicated to Our Lady, the ancient shrine was continued, the old statue was again set up for veneration.

During the Middle Ages, Glastonbury was an outstanding centre of pilgrimage, the great annual pilgrimage being on the 8th of September, Our Lady's birthday.

In 1539 Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey and the statue was lost. From this date the memory of the ancient Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury seemed to have gone for ever from England.

Nearly 400 years later, in 1926, a small Church was built and in 1939 the foundations of a new Church were laid. It would be dedicated to Our Lady, and would be a successor to the ancient Shrine of our Lady of Glastonbury. It stands just across the road from the old Abbey, on land which formerly formed part of the Abbot's park of Wirral. It was consecrated two years later by Bishop Lee of Clifton.

In July 1955, a statue bearing the ancient title, Our Lady St. Mary of Glastonbury was blessed by the then Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. Gerald O'Hara, in the presence of Bishop Rudderham of Clifton and a huge crowd of thousands of Catholics. So in the name of the Holy See the Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury was canonically restored.

In 1965 the statue was solemnly crowned by the then Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. Igino Cardinale, in the presence of the Anglican Bishop of Bath and Wells and an enormous gathering and Mass was said by Bishop Rudderham in the Abbey ruins. It was an historic moment; and the influence of Our Lady drawing all Christians to worship her Son together marks an epoch in the story of Glastonbury. The statue was designed by Mr. Philip Lindsey Clark, F.R.B.S. from the representation of Our Lady in a 14th century metal seal of the Abbey. The crowned statue of Our Lady bearing the Holy Child on her left forearm has a flowering bush on her right. This is probably nothing to do with the Glastonbury Thorn, which is not heard of until much later but is meant to signify Virgin Motherhood.

The two-part Tapestry which is either side of the Statue was woven in 1965. Five weavers took a total of 240 hours to complete. It depicts the three Glastonbury Martyrs (Blessed Richard Whiting, Blessed John Thorne, Blessed Roger James) with St. Dunstan who was born at Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury and was an Abbot there and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Also represented are St. Joseph of Arimathea, St. David, St. Patrick, St Brigid and Blessed Richard Bere, all of whom are said to have lived for a time