THE VISION IN 1985
Extract from the Book 'A Pligrim in Glastonbury' - Written in 2007
A clear task had been set:
“..to recreate the lost spiritual heart of this town – to recreate the Abbey
– but this time in a form suitable for today”
I had accepted the validity of the Company Avalon, at least for myself, and I found that I was able to ‘channel’ voices of the monks who called me ‘brother’. They seemed to have a clear idea of what they wanted to bring about. I had arrived in 1984 and during 1985 I gradually came to understand more clearly what was being called for. If we could honour the vision of the numerous monks who had communicated with Bligh Bond and others, then support would be available to help to bring this vision into reality.
The question now loomed large:
What is the Vision?
Without a vision, nothing comes into being.
We were being asked to envision a contemporary model of a thriving Benedictine Monastery. This would need to be along the lines of a ‘Spiritual Heart’, that was the new ‘Abbey, with a strong and vibrant supporting Town. The broad idea was clear enough - but the details were not. It seemed to me that the way forward was to look at what had been going on in the Abbey and then to see which of these activities seemed to be appropriate in 1985, albeit in a different form. Looking at these ancient activities raised a whole host of ideas and questions, all of which would need addressing and answering. The answers were not immediately needed, but in due course they would have to be found.
The very first question seemed to be – ‘What is the purpose of all this activity?’
The monks had been quite clear about the purpose of the place. Now there were various ideas about. There seemed to be a broad understanding, in the Alternative Community, that Glastonbury was a centre of pilgrimage, where the energies of the place enhanced the spiritual awareness of the visitor. By so doing, it helped them in some way to achieve a higher level of consciousness and an ‘Oneness with the other’. This happened whatever belief the individual was following. We would need to try to define something along these lines that could be accepted as the spirit and purpose of the place.
Our task seemed to be to work with the natural energies of the place in order to help maximise the effectiveness of the visit of any pilgrim. This would involve the community working together in order to offer a comprehensive range of services and support. This in turn would need a widely accepted view of the purpose of the towThe indications were that, if we could achieve this, we could bring prosperity and fulfilment to all the inhabitants of the town.
We would be drawing people in search of their own spiritual understanding and be a place where people lived in a community where the same values were shared but not necessarily the same beliefs. Maybe, if we were successful in Glastonbury, this could become a model, for other centres, of a new way of living appropriate to the early 21st century.
This was indeed a bold concept. What were the details? It seemed to me that the best plan was to look at each aspect of the Abbey, as it was at the height of its success, and consider what would be an appropriate way of meeting these needs today.
To make this task less daunting, I envisaged the overall picture under a number of arbitrary headings. I was essentially trying to define the areas where something would need to emerge but without trying to be too specific about what this might be and how it would come about.
If we were being asked to crate a spiritual centre along the lines of a Benedictine Abbey, then the very essence must be whatever could be called the beating ‘Spiritual Hear’. The town was clearly there but where was the spiritual heart? There was no Abbey and there were no monks and it did not seem to be appropriate to set about building a new medieval abbey and filling it with male Benedictine monks. What were the detailed activities of our monks?
The monks had had a very clear and rigid set of spiritual practices. The many different spiritual paths being followed in 1985 meant that there were no common spiritual practises and no recognised way of the community as a whole coming together.So perhaps a way was needed in which simple, shared, ceremonies and practices could be established.
The place and the landscape provided the transformative energy but this energy needed to be helped and assisted by the new ‘Monks’ – these presumably were the men and women of every belief and profession who were being called to serve in this place.
The landscape would need looking after. This would mean having the sacred places, such as Chalice Well, Wearyall Hill and Chalice Hill, in safe hands
If Glastonbury was to fulfil it potential as a place of transformation, then there would need to be a coherent story on the meaning of pilgrimage to Glastonbury. This meant giving ideas on the journey; how to use the time of the visit constructively and how you complete a pilgrimage to Glaston
The growth in wealth of the Abbey had been accompanied by a falling off of the true spiritual nature of the place. By the time of the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539, the number of choir monks had fallen to some 20 and the sheer amount of administrative work called for in running the business affairs of the monastery was starting to dominate the lives of the monks. We would have to be careful if we were to avoid an over-emphasis on income generating, leading to damage of the spiritual purpose of the place.
The Abbey had housed a community of celibate male, Christian, black robed monks. This was a tight knit community with a common pattern of worship.
From the way in which people were being ‘called’, it looked as if everything needed in the way of people, skills, and experience was being ‘arranged’. What we needed to explore was how to achieve an understanding of who was doing what and what new organisations, if any, were needed to allow the ‘Abbey’ to come into full realisation. An absolutely key question was how such a highly individualistic group of people could work constructively together to provide the services needed - and how to do this without a central authority and without the individuals having to give up too much personal independence.
There would need to be active support and practical help for those in material, and emotional need
A Sanctuary Building - There needed to be a place where people could be on their own in silence or share in spiritual practices with others. This place could be a building or an open space. It would be open to people of all beliefs and faiths. Ideally this place would be in the Abbey Grounds to honour the energies that are present there.
Retreat House - There needed to be a Retreat House with enough accomodation for 35 people on residential courses.
Conference Centre - There needed to be a conference centre with space for 100 more people. Facilities would include a theatre, conference rooms, private rooms and catering facilities
Rooms for Hire - There needed to be small rooms for hire for the use of smaller groups.
The pilgrim visitor to the old Abbey would have been greeted by a monk who would know how to guide visitors towards all that they were seeking on their pilgrimage. What was the position now?
There was a Tourist Information Centre (TIC) that gave visitors all that they needed to know about the Town but was not equipped to give information on the more esoteric activities of Glastonbury.
So what seemed to be needed was a Pilgrim Information Centre. This new centre would complement the services offered by the TIC, by concentrating upon giving advice and information on those subjects of particular interest to pilgrims. There would need to be a place to receive pilgrims and the place would need to be staffed by knowledgeable people. These people would need to have access to comprehensive information upon these specialist areas which would include sacred places, history, myths and legends, healers, faiths represented locally, pilgrimage ceremonies etc.
The compiling of this information would require research and the producing of specialist books, literature and directories – and possibly a ‘Pilgrim Information Pack’ for potential visitors. This in turn meant that we would need access to publishing skills. In 1985 we had primitive computers but the Internet had not yet been invented ! There was also a need for some sort of a community news letter or magazine.
The Abbey in the middle Ages had created one of the finest libraries in England. James Carley quotes John Leland, Henry VIIIs unofficial antiquarian general and an expert on the book collections of England, as writing after a visit to the Glastonbury Abbey library:
“…Scarcely had I crossed the threshold when the mere sight of the ancient books took my mind with an awe or stupor of some kind, and for that reason I stopped in my tracks for a little while. Then having paid my respects to the deity of the place, I examined all the bookcases for some days with the greatest interest”
A marvellous quotation from a fourteenth century Benedictine Abbot is given in the novel ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco
“A monastery without books is like a state without power, a fortress without troops, a kitchen without equipment, a meal without food, a garden without plants, a meadow without flowers, a tree without leaves...”
With the dissolution of the monastery, all the books of this great library were destroyed or disbursed. If we were being asked to create a new spiritual centre in Glastonbury, then it would be essential that there was a library of the human spirit.
Working with the library would be needed all the other academic activities that had been supported by the monks. These activities would include research, teaching and writing and publishing books. There would also need to be course and workshops on subjects of interest to visiting pilgrims. These would have to be supplied by a College or indeed a University of the Spirit. All these activities would need buildings, equipment, qualified staff and funding
Glastonbury at its height had flourished because it had at its heart a vigorous Abbey that attracted wealth and visitors. The Abbey was able to purchase from the Town the goods, services and people that it needed to support its own activities. The result was a thriving and prosperous Town. If Glastonbury as a whole was to flourish, then it was essential that it had not only a vigorous spiritual heart, but that there was also a thriving Town to support it
In the Middle Ages, the Abbey owned most of the property, farms and mills for miles around and was effectively the source of most of the employment and economy of the Town. Now, whilst the Pilgrimage activities could supply some of the economic activity of the Town, the rest would have to come from more conventional activities. So the Town would need to be viable and successful in its own right in addition to supplying the needs of visiting Pilgrims.
One of the ways of developing the more conventional activities of the Town could be to see how more support might be given to the growing number of local artists and authors. This would mean studios, galleries, marketing and marketing advice.
The Town was already supplying much of what was needed in the way of accomodation, shops, cafes and professional services. What was needed was an improvement in the quality of some of these services with more focus upon the specialised needs of the new Pilgrim visitors.
The Abbey had been able to build its various projects with a combination of wealth and practical experience. It seemed to me that the people engaged in the activities of the Market Town had the necessary finance and experience to make their own projects work. A problem here was that they did not have an understanding of what was trying to emerge in the way of a new Spiritual Community.
In the Alternative Community, there were many talented and creative people but there seemed to be distinct shortage of practical experience in running a business or indeed a charity. This shortage of experience was compounded by not only a shortage of finance but a very destructive ‘Poverty Consciousness’, - ‘All money is bad’. As a result, very few of the then ‘Pilgrimage ‘activities were viable.
Much of the new activity that was needed would depend upon ideas and initiatives originating in the Alternative Community. If these projects were to flourish, there would need to be some sort of support in the early stages to start them off upon the right lines.It seemed to me that there were a number of new services were needed, if this support was to be supplied – these would include:
Business Advice – A Chamber of Commerce existed but it would need to see how it might work with others to provide a comprehensive range of business and financial advice and support services to individuals and community projects.
Professional services - All the usual services of Accountants, Solicitors, and Estate Agents etc existed. It would be helpful if at least some of these professionals understood the needs of the new community projects that were being started up.
Office Spaces - Inexpensive serviced office space for start up ventures would be helpful.
Publicity - Access to professional publicity skills for all community ventures.
Selling and distribution – There appeared to be a need for help in organising the marketing, sale and distribution of ‘Pilgrim’ products and services, including specialised artefacts and artworks.
Employment Agency – It might help to have a specialised employment agency.
Counselling and Healing - Help and guidance with emotional and physical problems appeared to be well catered for. There might well be a need for help and guidance with spiritual probl
A Shared Vision
An essential ingredient that would be needed if the town was to reach its full potential was a broad understanding by the whole town of just what was the purpose of the town.
The concept of Glastonbury as a Spiritual Centre was going to be difficult for many people to accept. Perhaps it would be advisable to place more emphasis upon the other functions that had been performed by the Abbey and would be emerging in the new Glastonbury. This would mean stressing the important contributions to be made by the Academic and Artistic activities. Maybe that could also be an emphasis upon the interest of the Alternative Community in ‘Treading lightly upon the Earth’.
What was emerging was in many ways new. Nonetheless we had contemporary models of towns with two aspects in Santiago de Compestella, with its cathedral and pilgrim staff and its town and in Oxford University with its” Town” and “Gown” communities.
Most of what was known about Glastonbury in 1985 was hearsay and there seemed to be a real need for more facts as a basis for a better understanding. Maybe some research into various aspects of the economy of the town and perhaps some academic work on the emerging Contemporary Spirituality. With facts, produced by credible authorities, we would have the basis for discussion upon how we all saw the emerging future of the town. Perhaps, from this research, could emerge a shared vision which could form the basis of an agreed plan for the future – a plan in which all parts of the community of the Town could share
A simple vision of the whole had been given and what this might mean in detail was beginning to emerge. What, if any, action was I being called to take? In some ways the task was more difficult than it had been in the Middle Ages. Then there was a hierarchical structure enabling decisions to be made and implemented. Everything was owned by the Abbey and there was a clear authority and power structure. So a new idea could be put into effect with little difficulty.
Now the emerging whole would be made up of large number of independent community projects, businesses, groups and individuals with no central authority.
This was a peer group of individuals and a central co-ordinating authority was the last thing that was wanted. Instead we had to find ways of co-operating and working together. An essential ingredient would seem to be the shared vision of the whole that we have talked about, so that each individual could decide where they fitted into this whole.
My own belief was that the new pattern for the town was being guided by the Company of Avalon. All the people, the talents, the experience, the resources, the money would be called in when the time is right. Each individual would be inspired by the individual part that they were to play in this whole.
There would be a joint task of working together in order to see how individuals and groups fitted into this whole. With this understanding, it would be possible to honour and respect each highly individual project as being a vital part of a greater whole.
I had been given a vision of the whole and some idea of the details. My task seemed to be to work with others on projects to which I was guided. I needed to work with individual projects and not to concern myself unduly with whole. All would emerge in the fullness of time - and there was no hurry.For me, this was a new way of working - allowing things to evolve at their own pace rather than using my will to make things happen.
As my monkish friends told me
'We will provide the vision and the resources
Those that we have called will bring the new about.
The scene had been set