St Michael’s Church Tower

Tor Hill, Glastonbury, Somerset

Date listed: 1950
Grade: I
More details on Pastscape

Glastonbury Tor

The tower is all that remains of the late 13th-century St Michael's Church, but it is one of the most dominant and memorable features of the Somerset landscape. Sitting atop the Tor - the hill nicknamed the 'Isle of Avalon' because it is the only high point in the low-lying Somerset Levels - the church has been a focal point for locals and visitors alike for centuries.

Obvious Target

Archaeological evidence suggests that the top of the Tor was levelled to build a place of worship as early as the 10th century. The first stone church was the victim of an earthquake in 1275.

Casting its gaze over the town of Glastonbury, its replacement acted as a reminder to the town and surrounding areas of the power, influence and wealth of Glastonbury Abbey, which owned all the surrounding churches.

For centuries, the abbey was one of, if not the wealthiest in England, making it an obvious target during the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. By January 1539, Glastonbury was the only monastery remaining in Somerset.

Nine months later, in September 1539, the abbot, Richard Whiting, was imprisoned in the Tower of London and, on 14 November, was put on trial in the cathedral city of Wells.

The following day, St Michael's Tower would become a symbol of the destructive and often gruesome acts committed in the name of the Reformation.

Hung, Drawn and Quartered

Dragged by horses on a hurdle from the court in Wells to the church - a distance of some 14 miles - the abbot and two monks were strung up on the Tor and hung, drawn and quartered.

Pieces of Richard Whiting's remains were sent to the towns of Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgwater, and his head was stuck on a spike on the gates of the now-deserted abbey to reinforce the jurisdiction of the king. 

Richard Whiting was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on 13 May 1896. During excavations at the abbey by Frederick Bligh Bond in the early 1900s, it was claimed that some of his bones had been discovered in the grounds.