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Abstract

The sacred sites of Glastonbury in Somerset, England have long been places of pilgrimage, connected to the legend of the journey of Joseph of Arimathea to the British Isles, and have fired the imagination from the Middle Ages to today - inspiring the Arthurian legends, folk-stories and song, and visual representations. In response to the question ‘What is Pilgrimage,’ this essay seeks to explore the conjunction of artistic representations and geographic journeys to and among the ancient topography and mysterious structures of Glastonbury, with a particular focus on how sacred travel, and especially an experience of communitas, can be engendered through art and material culture. This Turnerian notion is understood here as expanding beyond the sense of community enacted within a group of pilgrims and used to describe the complex reception of a symbol vehicle - such as a visual representation or song - as a site of community where, through the act of viewing, the beholder connects to those who have seen the object, person, or image before and those who will see the image in the future. As in all sacred art, the forms and iconography take on an ontological capacity, leading the viewer beyond the person or landscape represented to the thing itself, and hence function as powerful aids to prayer and meditative experience. The work of several thematically connected artists who live (or lived) and work in England - William Blake, Aidan Hart, and the founders of the British Pilgrimage Trust - will serve as case studies; all draw on the legends and sacred stories surrounding the imbued and highly-charged Glastonbury landscape, inviting the viewer to embark on a contemplative pilgrimage through pictures (and, in Blake’s case, lyrical poetry). A look at the efforts of the BPT to engage in an intentional temporal shift through the use of musical entrainment and Blake’s lyrics will underscore the continued importance of the Glastonbury legends in cultural expression.

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