The Hidden beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare
On 15 November 1539, a procession wound its way up Glastonbury Tor, a steep conical hill overlooking the peatlands of Somerset in south-west England. /the journey over the windy ridges was arduous, for the crowd struggled to drag with them three men tied to a sledge-like wooden frames. On top of the hill stood a newly constructed gallows; near it was a fire, knives and a caldron.
Though some of the spectators may have been jeering, many would have been aghast, not only at the barbarity but at the sacrilege of what they were witnessing. Glastonbury was the most ancient and sacred Christian site in Britain. Long ago, when it was all surrounded by sea, it was called Yniswitren, the Island of Glass, where Joseph of Arimathea and his eleven companions were believed to have arrived by boat from the Holy Land, bearing with them the Holy Grail containing the blood of Christ.
On top of the island they built a small church of willow reeds in honor of the Virgin, a church that would be preserved for centuries. In time the place became known as Avalon, the Isle of Apples, where King Arthur was said to be buried with Guinevere sixteen feet deep under a great stone slab. The missionaries from Rome came to Glastonbury, repaired the church and settled there; St. Patrick, returning from Ireland, became their abbot and was buried under the church. The learned St. Dunstan established a great Benedictine monastery around the Tor, and until the Reformation, the ancient Celtic site remained one of England’s greatest centres of pilgrimage – the burial place of saints and a direct, mysterious link with Christ himself.
The old man standing under the shadow of the gallows in 1539 taking his final look at the wide stretch of Glastonbury lands spread out below him was Richard Whiting, the monastery’s last abbot, a humanist scholar and respected administrator, condemned to death on the orders of a government determined to appropriate the wealth of the great abbey.Along with his two fellow monks, he uttered a final prayer, asking forgiveness of God, and his captors; the cart beneath him jerked and for a moment he dangled from the gallows. Then he was cut down, his chest sliced open, his bowel removed and tossed into the cauldron, and his heart, still beating, torn out and held aloft by the hangman who proclaimed it “the heart of a traitor”. Finally, his body was dismembered and boiled, the heart fastened up over the gate of the of the deserted abbey and the quartered limbs exposed to the cities of Wells, bath, Ilchester and Bridgewater, a terrible warning to the West Country of the price of resistance to the King’s new regime.