Never has there been a greater earthly hero in Western culture than King Arthur. Supposedly living in the 5th century, it wasn’t until 1136 when a monk, weaving in common tales, wrote down his story. Thereafter, every era has created it’s own King Arthur: Henry VIII believed himself to be the reincarnation; in Austria, Emperor Maximilian’s tomb includes a prominent Arthurian statue; and in South Tyrol, the Runkelstein Castle is decorated with Arthurian frescos.
The myth of King Arthur is a product of medieval literature and imagination, and countless places in England and Wales take claim to King Arthur as their own. His track leads to the region of Cornwall, to Cadbury, Slaughterbridge, Glastonbury – and to Tintagel, where Arthur is said to be born in a cave and raised by the wizard Merlin. A bleak parish by the sea, Tintagel survives off tourists, attracted by a medieval fortification and “King Arthur’s Great Hall.” In Slaughterbridge, according to legend, Arthur and his followers perished. Here, a monolith covered with moss and lichen bears the inscription, “Here rests Latin, the son of Arthur the Great.”
For centuries, people in Glastonbury, Somerset believe the legendary island of Avalon to be the final refuge for the wounded Arthur. Here, pilgrims gather at a summit, form a circle, sing and meditate beside a bell tower, believed to be the entrance to the Celtic underworld. Near Stonehenge, John Timothy Rothwell considers himself the legitimate descendant of the mythical ruler, renaming himself Arthur Pendragon.
“Arthur was the imagined version of at least one historical figure and never goes out of fashion,” says renowned Arthurian researcher Geoffrey Ashe. “People hope that this figure of light will one day return to save the world.”