Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset, England has been called the oldest above-ground Christian church in the world. The Abbey Ruins, at one time the most magnificent religious edifice in Britain, stood on 12 hides of land (the symbolic measure of the New Jerusalem as described by St John in Revelation 21). Long before Glastonbury was reputedly the Isle of Avalon (circa 500 A.D.) and allegedly the burial place of King Arthur and his Guinevere, the New Testament character Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus to Glastonbury (located approximately 125 miles west of London). Legend has it the boy Jesus helped his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, build Glastonbury's first wattle and daub church, thereby giving rise to the famous William Blake poem 'Jerusalem' and the English hymn of the same name.

"And here did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
on England's pleasant pastures seen?";

Another story has it that Joseph of Arimathea founded the first Christian church at Glastonbury in 37 A.D., bringing with him the Holy Grail, or silver chalice, the cup used by Christ during the Last Supper and also used by Joseph to catch his blood at the crucifixion. Joseph allegedly buried the Holy Grail just below the Glastonbury Tor (tor means rocky hill or peak) at the entrance to the Underworld. A Chalice Well flowed forth and the water brought forth would provide eternal youth to anyone who drank it. King Arthur and his Holy Knights of the Round Table were determined to find the Holy Grail. For centuries the land around Glastonbury has been known as the Twelve Hides. The somewhat circular area around Glastonbury constitutes a series of ridges approximately ten miles across and roughly 30 miles in circumference. In ancient times, Glastonbury formed part of a triangle with the stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury, and has since been cited as "a world energy-point" by spiritualists. Long a pilgrimage place, Glastonbury now attracts seekers who take psychedelic drugs on or near the prominent, 500-foot Glastonbury Tor. One legend says this tor was once the home of the Faery King. A Celtic legend says that the hill is hollow and that the top guards the entrance to the Underworld.

It was surmised by Geoffrey Ashe in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the ridges of Glastonbury constitute a circular maze-making it by far the largest labyrinth in the world--but Ashe's theory was preceded by the more fantastical findings of the antiquarian Katharine Maltwood who spent summers in Glastonbury after World War II.

Born Katharine Emma Sapsworth in 1878, she attended a progressive girls school called Moira House and enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1896-97, studying with George Frampton. Following studies in Paris and London, in 1901 she married John Maltwood, a wealthy businessman, and commenced her world travels as a theosophist-cum-Buddhist, sculptrist, artist, art collector and amateur sleuth into ancient cultures. Although the astrologer of Queen Elizabeth the First, John Dee, made some statements about how the earth reflected astrological symbols from the sky, it was Maltwood who first suggested the Glastonbury landscape was a vast depiction of Zodiacal forms. She further interpreted these astrological patterns to represent scenes from the Arthurian legends. The so-called Glastonbury Giants or 12 Zodiac signs, appearing in order, supposedly correspond with the Round Table in Avalon, but they are easily criticized as fanciful shapes. Her theorizing encouraged the mini-industry of New Age spiritualist writing on the subject of Glastonbury. After Maltwood first linked the various hills of Glastonbury (Chalice Hill / Aquarius; Wearyall Hill / Pisces, etc.) with the Knights of the Round Table in 1927, she announced her discovery in a book entitled The Temple of The Stars (1935) with the advent of aerial photography. But Maltwood first suggested Glastonbury was part of an enormous and ancient circle of figures outlined in the landscape by hills, woods and waterways, etc., by her explorations on the ground.

A prolific painter, Katharine Maltwood retired to Victoria, B.C. The Maltwoods bought a Cotswold cottage near Butchart Gardens in 1940 (operating at the time as a restaurant) and renovated it to become a museum which opened in 1953. According to the University of Victoria, "Katharine Maltwood and her husband, John, believed in surrounding themselves with beautiful objects and in this way, they were following the ideas of Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. When the Maltwoods moved to Victoria from England in 1938, Katharine began working towards developing a museum of their collection to donate to the city. She chose a Tudor revival house and named it 'The Thatch'. In renovating it to reflect a country home only the best quality materials were used....The Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery has continued with Katharine's life-long interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement." Katharine Maltwood left the museum to the University of Victoria. Maltwood and her husband also bequeathed their extensive art collection containing thousands of items from around the world, plus her own art. A new shake roof was installed and 'The Thatch' continued as a public museum until the Maltwood collection was moved to a new Maltwood Museum on the University of Victoria campus in 1980. Maltwood's research archives into ancient cultures and spiritualism can be seen at the McPhearson Library at the University of Victoria.

Katharine Maltwood wrote several books and pamphlets about her theories, some of which were self-published from Victoria, but her notoriety has largely faded in British Columbia despite a 1981 monograph by Rosemary Alicia Brown. Maltwood will be remembered in British Columbia more for her supportive relationship with Emily Carr as both artists were forging an original approach to B.C. painting in the early 1940s.


A Guide to Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars (Cambridge, United Kingdom: James Clarke Company, Limited, 1950, 1964, 1982, 1997, 2000).

Air View. Supplement to A Guide to Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars (John M. Watkins, London, 1937).

Itinerary of the Somerset Giants (Victoria Printing & Publishing Co., 1946) (SubTitle/Content: Abridged from 'King Arthur's Round Table of the Zodiac'. [Booklet]

The Enchantments of Britain (Victoria Publishing, 1944; Cambridge, United Kingdom: James Clarke Company, Limited, 1982, 1997).


Katharine Emma Maltwood. Artist 1878-1961 (The Maltwood Art Museum / Sono Nis Press, 1981) 'Monograph from an Exhibition at The Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, University of Victoria'.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Religion"