Avalon (/ˈævəˌlɒn/; Latin: Insula Avallonis,
Old French Avalon,
Welsh: Ynys Afallon, Ynys Afallach; literally meaning "the isle of
fruit [or apple] trees") is a legendary island featured in the
Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of
the Kings of Britain") as the place where King Arthur's sword
Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from
his wounds after the Battle of Camlann.
Avalon was associated from an
early date with mystical practices and figures such as Morgan le Fay.
It is traditionally identified as the former island of Glastonbury
2 Geoffrey of Monmouth
3 Later medieval literature
4 Connection to Glastonbury
5 Other locations for Avalon
6 See also
Geoffrey of Monmouth referred to it in
Latin as Insula Avallonis in
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). In the later
Vita Merlini (c.
1150) he called it Insula Pomorum the "isle of fruit trees" (from
Latin pōmus "fruit tree"). The name is generally considered to be of
Welsh origin (though an
Old Cornish or
Old Breton origin is also
possible), derived from Old Welsh, Old Cornish, or
Old Breton aball or
avallen(n), "apple tree, fruit tree" (cf. afall in Modern Welsh,
Common Celtic *abalnā, literally "fruit-bearing
(thing)"). It is also possible that the tradition of an
"apple" island among the British was related to Irish legends
concerning the otherworld island home of
Manannán mac Lir
Manannán mac Lir and Lugh,
Emain Ablach (also the
Old Irish poetic name for the Isle of Man),
where Ablach means "Having Apple Trees" – derived from Old Irish
aball ("apple")—and is similar to the Middle Welsh name Afallach,
which was used to replace the name
Avalon in medieval Welsh
translations of French and
Latin Arthurian tales. All are
etymologically related to the Gaulish root *aballo "fruit tree" - (as
found in the place name Aballo/Aballone) and are derived from a Common
Celtic *abal- "apple", which is related at the Proto-Indo-European
level to English apple, Russian яблоко (jabloko), Latvian
ābele, et al.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
According to Geoffrey in the Historia, and much subsequent literature
which he inspired,
Avalon is the place where
King Arthur is taken
Mordred at the
Battle of Camlann
Battle of Camlann to recover from his
wounds. Welsh, Cornish and Breton tradition claimed that Arthur had
never really died, but would return to lead his people against their
enemies. The Historia also states that
Avalon is where his sword
Excalibur was forged.
Geoffrey dealt with
Avalon in more detail in Vita Merlini, in which he
describes for the first time in
Arthurian legend the enchantress
Morgan (Morgen) as the chief of nine sisters (Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten,
Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, Thiten and Thiton) who rule Avalon.
Geoffrey's description of the island indicates a sea voyage was needed
to get there. His description of
Avalon here, which is heavily
indebted to the early medieval Spanish scholar Isidore of Seville
(being mostly derived from the section on famous islands in Isidore's
famous work Etymologiae, XIV.6.8 "Fortunatae Insulae"; in medieval
geographies, Isidore's islands were identified with the
Canaries), shows the magical nature of the island:
The island of apples which men call the Fortunate Isle (Insula Pomorum
quae Fortunata uocatur) gets its name from the fact that it produces
all things of itself; the fields there have no need of the ploughs of
the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature
provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple
trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass. The ground of
its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass, and people
live there a hundred years or more. There nine sisters rule by a
pleasing set of laws those who come to them from our country.[note
Later medieval literature
Le Morte d'Arthur
Le Morte d'Arthur by James Archer (1860)
Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes, the consort of Morgan is the
Lord of the Isle of Avalon, Arthur's nephew named Guinguemar (a
derivative of the legendary Breton hero Guingamor). In Layamon's
Brut, Arthur is taken to
Avalon to be healed there (by means of magic
water) by a more supernatural and distinctively Anglo-Saxon
redefinition of Geoffrey's Morgen: an elf queen of
Some later versions of the
Arthurian legend (including the best-known,
Le Morte d'Arthur
Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory) have Morgan (by this time Arthur's
sister in the narrative) and some other ladies (magical queens or
enchantresses, sometimes with the
Lady of the Lake
Lady of the Lake among them; other
may include the Queens of Eastland, the Northgales, the Outer Isles,
and the Wasteland) arrive after the battle to take the mortally
wounded Arthur from Camlann to
Avalon on a black boat. In the Spanish
summary of the
Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal by Lope Garcia de Salazar,
Morgan then uses her magic to hide
Avalon in mist. Arthur's fate
is usually left untold; in the
Stanzaic Morte Arthur
Stanzaic Morte Arthur (which influenced
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury later receives Arthur's dead
body and buries it at Glastonbury. Conversely, Stephen of Rouen's
Draco Normannicus contains a fictional letter from King
Arthur to Henry II of England, in which "Arthur" claims that he has
been healed of his wounds and made immortal by his "deathless/eternal
nymph" sister Morgan on Avalon, using the island's restorative
Morgan also features as an immortal ruler of a fantastic Avalon,
sometimes alongside the still alive Arthur, in some subsequent and
otherwise non-Arthurian chivalric romances such as Tirant lo
Blanch, as well as the tales of Huon of Bordeaux, where Oberon
is a son of either Morgan by name or "the Lady of the Secret
Isle", and Ogier the Dane, where
Avalon can be a "castle".
In his La Faula,
Guillem de Torroella claims to have visited the
Enchanted Island (Illa Encantada) and met Arthur who has been brought
back to life by Morgan and they both of them are now forever young,
sustained by the Holy Grail. In the chanson de geste La Bataille
Loquifer, Morgan and her sister Marsion (Marrion) bring the hero
Renoart to Avalon, where Arthur now prepares his return alongside
Morgan, Gawain, Ywain,
Percival and Guinevere. Such stories
take place centuries after the times of King Arthur.
Connection to Glastonbury
Avalon became associated with Glastonbury, when monks at
Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the bones of Arthur and
Guinevere. The works of Gerald of
Wales make the first known
What is now known as
Glastonbury was, in ancient times, called the
Isle of Avalon. It is virtually an island, for it is completely
surrounded by marshlands. In Welsh it is called Ynys Afallach, which
means the Island of Apples and this fruit once grew in great
abundance. After the Battle of Camlann, a noblewoman called Morgan,
later the ruler and patroness of these parts as well as being a close
blood-relation of King Arthur, carried him off to the island, now
known as Glastonbury, so that his wounds could be cared for. Years ago
the district had also been called Ynys Gutrin in Welsh, that is the
Island of Glass, and from these words the invading Saxons later coined
the place-name 'Glastingebury'.
Though no longer an island in the 12th century, the high conical bulk
Glastonbury Tor had been surrounded by marsh before the surrounding
fenland in the
Somerset Levels was drained. In ancient times, Ponter's
Ball Dyke would have guarded the only entrance to the island. The
Romans eventually built another road to the island. Gerald wrote
that Glastonbury's earliest name in Welsh was Ineswitrin (or Ynys
Witrin), the Isle of Glass, a name noted by earlier historians which
suggests that the location was at one point seen as an island.
The discovery of the burial is described by chroniclers, notably
Gerald, as being just after King Henry II's reign when the new abbot
of Glastonbury, Henry de Sully, commissioned a search of the abbey
grounds. At a depth of 5 m (16 feet) the monks were said to
have discovered a massive treetrunk coffin and a leaden cross bearing
Leaden cross inscribed with Arthur's epitaph. from Camden, Britannia
Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arturius in insula Avalonia.
("Here lies entombed the renowned king Arthur in the island of
Accounts of the exact inscription vary, with five different versions
existing. The earliest is by Gerald in Liber de Principis instructione
c. 1193, who wrote that he viewed the cross in person and traced
the lettering. His transcript reads: "Here lies buried the famous
Arthurus with Wenneveria his second wife in the isle of Avalon."
Inside the coffin were two bodies, whom Giraldus refers to as Arthur
and "his queen"; the bones of the male body were described as being
gigantic. The account of the burial by the chronicle of Margam Abbey
says three bodies were found, the other being of Mordred.
In 1278, the remains were reburied with great ceremony, attended by
King Edward I and his queen, before the High Altar at Glastonbury
Abbey. There, the site became the focus of pilgrimages until the
The story is today seen as an example of pseudoarchaeology. Historians
today generally dismiss the authenticity of the find, attributing it
to a publicity stunt performed to raise funds to repair the Abbey,
which was mostly burned in 1184.[note 2]
The fact that the search for the body is connected to Henry II
and Edward I, both kings who fought major Anglo-Welsh wars, has
had scholars suggest that propaganda may have played a part as
well. Gerald was a constant supporter of royal authority; in his
account of the discovery clearly aims to destroy the idea of the
possibility of King Arthur's messianic return:
Many tales are told and many legends have been invented about King
Arthur and his mysterious ending. In their stupidity the British [i.e.
Welsh, Cornish and Bretons] people maintain that he is still alive.
Now that the truth is known, I have taken the trouble to add a few
more details in this present chapter. The fairy-tales have been
snuffed out, and the true and indubitable facts are made known, so
that what really happened must be made crystal clear to all and
separated from the myths which have accumulated on the subject.
A view from
Glastonbury Tor in 2014
The burial discovery ensured that in later romances, histories based
on them and in the popular imagination
Glastonbury became increasingly
identified with Avalon, an identification that continues strongly
today. The later development of the legends of the
Holy Grail and
Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph of Arimathea by
Robert de Boron interconnected these legends
Glastonbury and with Avalon, an identification which also seems
to be made in Perlesvaus. The popularity of Arthurian romances has
meant this area of the
Somerset Levels has today become popularly
described as the Vale of Avalon.
In more recent times, writers such as Dion Fortune, John Michell,
Nicholas Mann and
Geoffrey Ashe have formed theories based on
perceived connections between
Glastonbury and Celtic legends of the
Otherworld in attempts to link the location firmly with Avalon,
drawing on the various legends based on
Glastonbury Tor as well as
drawing on ideas like Earth mysteries,
Ley lines and even the myth of
Atlantis. Arthurian literature also continues to use
Glastonbury as an
important location as in The Mists of Avalon, A
and The Bones of Avalon. Even the fact that
Somerset has many apple
orchards has been drawn in to support the connection.
Glastonbury's connection to
Avalon continues to make it a site of
tourism and the area has great religious significance for Neo-Pagans,
Neo-Druids and as a New Age community, as well as Christians. Hippy
Avalon seen in the work of Michell
Gandalf's Garden also helped inspire the Glastonbury
Other locations for Avalon
See also: Locations associated with Arthurian legend
In medieval times suggestions for the location of
Avalon ranged far
beyond Glastonbury. They included paradisal underworld realms equated
with the other side of the Earth at the antipodes, Mongibel in
Sicily, and other unnamed locations in the Mediterranean.
In more recent times, just like in the quest for Arthur's mythical
capital Camelot, a large number of locations have been put forward as
being the real "Avalon". Ashe suggests an association of
the town of
Avallon in Burgundy, as part of a theory connecting King
Arthur to the
Riothamus who campaigned in that
Annwn - the Welsh otherworld
Tír na nÓg
Toyota Avalon -
Full-size car produced by
Toyota & built in
^ By comparison, Isidore's description of the
Fortunate Isles reads:
Fortunate Isles (Fortunatarum insulae) signify by their name that
they produce all kinds of good things, as if they were happy and
blessed with an abundance of fruit. Indeed, well-suited by their
nature, they produce fruit from very precious trees [Sua enim aptae
natura pretiosarum poma silvarum parturiunt]; the ridges of their
hills are spontaneously covered with grapevines; instead of weeds,
harvest crops and garden herbs are common there. Hence the mistake of
pagans and the poems by worldly poets, who believed that these isles
Paradise because of the fertility of their soil. They are
situated in the Ocean, against the left side of Mauretania, closest to
where the sun sets, and they are separated from each other by the
^ Long before this William of Malmesbury, a 12th-century historian
interested in Arthur, wrote in his history of England: "But Arthur's
grave is nowhere seen, whence antiquity of fables still claims that he
will return." It is known for certain the monks later added forged
passages discussing Arthurian connections to William's comprehensive
Glastonbury De antiquitae Glatoniensis ecclesie (On
Glastonbury Church), written around 1130.
^ Matasović, Ranko, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, Brill,
2008, p. 23
^ a b Koch, John. Celtic Culture:a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO
2006, p. 146.
^ Savage, John J. H. "Insula Avallonia", Transactions and Proceedings
of the American Philological Association, Vol. 73, (1942), pp.
^ Nitze, William Albert, Jenkins, Thomas Atkinson. Le Haut Livre du
Graal, Phaeton Press, 1972, p. 55.
^ Zimmer, Heinrich. Bretonische Elemente in der Artursage des
Gottfried von Monmouth, Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und
Literatur, Volume 12, 1890, pp. 246–248.
^ Marstrander, Carl Johan Sverdrup (ed.), Dictionary of the Irish
Language, Royal Irish Academy, 1976, letter A, column 11, line 026.
^ Hamp, Eric P. The north European word for ‘apple’, Zeitschrift
für Celtische Philologie, 37, 1979, pp. 158–166.
^ Adams, Douglas Q. The Indo-European Word for 'apple' Again.
Indogermanische Forschungen, 90, 1985, pp. 79–82.
^ Berthelot, Anne, “Apprivoiser la merveille”, in: Mélanges en
l’honneur de Francis Dubost, Paris: Champion, 2005, pp. 49–66.
^ Tilley, Arthur Augustus, Medieval France: A Companion to French
Studies, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 176.
^ Sobecki, Sebastian I., The Sea and Medieval English Literature, DS
Brewer, 2008, p. 81.
^ O'Callaghan, J., Kagay, D., Vann, T. (eds), On the Social Origins of
Medieval Institutions: Essays in Honor of Joseph F. O'Callaghan,
BRILL, 1998, p. 61.
^ McClure, Julia, The Franciscan Invention of the New World, Springer,
Nov 30, 2016, p. 66.
Vita Merlini Index". sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 1 April
^ Barney, S., Lewis, W.J., Beach, J.A., Berghof, O (eds.), The
Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Cambridge University Press, 2006,
^ Pérez, Kristina The Myth of Morgan la Fey. Palgrave Macmillan
(2014), p 91.
^ "Argante of Areley Kings: Regional Definitions of National Identity
in Layamon's Brut". Ohio State University.
^ "Crossing the Ocean Sea - The Mythical Atlantic Islands".
^ "Stanzaic Morte Arthur, Part 3". Robbins Library Digital
^ Michael Twomey. "'Morgan le Fay, Empress of the Wilderness': A Newly
Recovered Arthurian Text in London, BL Royal 12.C.ix Michael
Twomey". Academia.edu. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
^ Hebert, Jill M. (12 March 2013). "Morgan le Fay, Shapeshifter".
Springer – via Google Books.
^ "La desaparición de Morgana: de
Tirant lo Blanch
Tirant lo Blanch (1490) y Amadís
de Gaula (1508) a Tyrant le Blanch (1737)".
^ Hamilton, A. C. (2 September 2003). "The Spenser Encyclopedia".
Routledge – via Google Books.
^ "HUON OF BORDEAUX.* » 25 Jan 1896 » The Spectator
^ "Digitised Manuscripts: BL Royal MS 15 E vi". The British
^ "Ogier the Dane". Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) – via
^ "De l'illa de Mallorca a l'Illa Encantada: arrels artúriques de La
Faula de Guillem de Torroella". Europeana Collections.
^ "'But Arthur's Grave is Nowhere Seen'". www.arthuriana.co.uk.
^ "MEDIEVALISTA". www2.fcsh.unl.pt.
^ a b "Two Accounts of the Exhumation of Arthur's Body: Gerald of
Wales". britannia.com. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
^ Allcroft, Arthur Hadrian (1908), Earthwork of England: Prehistoric,
Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman and Mediæval, Nabu Press,
pp. 69–70, ISBN 978-1-178-13643-2, retrieved 12 April
^ Carley, James P. (2001),
Glastonbury Abbey and the Arthurian
tradition, D.S. Brewer, p. 316, ISBN 978-0-85991-572-4
^ Modern scholarship views the
Glastonbury cross as the result of a
probably late 12th century fraud. See Rahtz 1993 and Carey 1999.
^ O. J. Padel. (1994). "The Nature of Arthur" in Cambrian Medieval
Celtic Studies, 27, pp. 1–31, at p. 10
^ "Glastonbury", in Norris J. Lacy (ed.) (1986). The Arthurian
Encyclopedia. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.
^ Rahtz 1993
^ John Ezard. "Treadmill in the Vale of Avalon". the Guardian.
Retrieved 1 April 2016.
^ "Glastonbury: Alternative Histories", in Ronald Hutton, Witches,
Druids and King Arthur.
^ Loomis, Roger Sherman
Wales and the Arthurian Legend, pub.
Wales Press, Cardiff 1956 and reprinted by Folcroft
Press 1973, Chapter 5
King Arthur and the Antipodes, pps. 70-71.
Avalon in Norris J. Lacy, Editor, The Arthurian Encyclopedia (1986
Peter Bedrick Books, New York).
Geoffrey Ashe (1985), The Discovery of King Arthur, London: Guild
Publishing, pp. 95–96, (p. 95) In Welsh it is Ynys Avallach.
Latin equivalent is Insula Avallonis. It has been
influenced by the spelling of a real place called Avallon.
a Gaulish name with the same meaning, and the real
Avalon is in
Burgundy—where Arthur's Gallic career ends. Again, we glimpse an
earlier and different passing of Arthur, on the Continent and not in
Britain. (p. 96)
Riothamus too led an army of Britons into Gaul, and
was the only British King who did. He too advanced to the
neighbourhood of Burgundy. He too was betrayed by a deputy ruler who
treated with barbarian enemies. He, too, is last located in Gaul among
the pro-Roman Burgundians. He, too, disappears after a fatal battle,
without any recorded death. The line of his retreat, prolonged on a
map, shows that he was going in the direction of the real
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Rahtz, Philip (1993), English Heritage Book of Glastonbury, London:
Batsford, ISBN 978-0-7134-6865-6 .
Carey, John (1999), "The Finding of Arthur's Grave: A Story from
Clonmacnoise?", in Carey, John; Koch, John T.; Lambert, Pierre-Yves,
Ildánach Ildírech. A Festschrift for Proinsias Mac Cana, Andover:
Celtic Studies Publications, pp. 1–14,
ISBN 978-1-891271-01-4 .
King Arthur and the Matter of Britain
Lady of the Lake
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Historicity of King Arthur
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Treachery of the Long Knives
Trojan genealogy of Nennius
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