Tracy Cutting has been on the Chalice Well staff since 2003, on the archive committee and personal assistant to the guardian; on October 22 she gave members of the Conservation Society an outline of the well’s history.
Excavations in 1961 revealed that the natural spring was originally four metres below the current surface. Flints and potsherds showed that the area had been in use since the mesolithic period, when freshwater springs were revered as a source of life. A watching brief in 1999 during construction of a meeting room also produced evidence of Bronze Age activity.
The first written reference is in the Great Chartulary of 1210, when the spring is referred to as the “chalkwell” — hence the modern Chilkwell Street — and was enclosed by a wellhouse to protect it from landslides and silt buildup, and used as a supply for the Abbey.
A 16th-century inn, The Anchor, later called Torr House, stood on part of the site, where in 1751 the taking of the waters by one Matthew Chancellor of North Wootton with claims of healing powers resulted in the construction of a spa house, of which some remains survive, as an adjunct to the inn. Water was piped to the Pump House in Magdalene Street, but Glastonbury’s fame as a spa was but short lived.
In 1867 a French and Belgian Roman Catholic order, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, purchased the inn and established a seminary, which lasted until 1913.
It was purchased at auction by Alice Buckton, a schoolteacher from Haslemere who established a hostel and college for women, with a growing emphasis on sacred drama. She raised the profile of the spring, naming it the Chalice Well. The community acquired additional properties and became known for its work in the Arts and Crafts tradition and especially for the plays and pageants she produced, notably the silent movie in 1922 featuring 400 townspeople.
On her death in 1944 a trust was formed to continue her work, but financial difficulties forced the sale of many of the properties and in 1959 the nucleus of the site to Wellesley Tudor Pole, whose own Chalice Well Trust was merged with Alice Buckton’s and continues to this day.
The Chalice Well is a chalybeate spring, rich in iron oxide, which colours the water red. This connects with the legend of Joseph of Aramathea bringing the chalice from the Last Supper to Glastonbury and with Arthurian legends. A vision manifested to Tudor Pole in 1906 resulted in his sister discovering an ancient glass bowl at Beckery, now kept at the Chalice Well and considered by some to be sacred.
The well lid was given by Frederick Bligh Bond in 1919 and incorporates his interpretation of sacred geometry — the vesica piscis, two intersecting circles, each passing through the centre of the other.
Today the Chalice Well is visited by tourists and pilgrims from all over the world for its healing properties, mystic significance and as a sacred space.