The Magdalen Shrine

   Cheryl Rose  

Before the medieval floor tiles forming the pavement of Saint Brigid's Chapel were lifted in 1964, archaeologists had dismissed the legend that an earlier, wooden shine dedicated to Maria Magdalena had previously been built there. They failed to disprove the old legend, however, when they discovered a roughly circular pattern of postholes at the centre of the nave which were determined to be no later than seventh century, and possibly much earlier. As always, the archaeology of Glastonbury has a tendency to support it's legends rather than refute them!

By 1251, the abbey was flourishing once again after recovering from the great fire of 1184. To the southwest of the great church a new infirmary, dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, was built immediately to the west of an old, eleventh-century chapel and was administered by the monks until the dissolution in 1539. The earlier chapel was probably dedicated to Mary Magdelene also, as it's orientation is directly towards the original Magdelene Shrine on Bride's Mound. Water from the red and white springs, that join and flow together from Wellhouse Lane and through the abbey grounds, entered the chapel from beneath the altar and continued to flow down the centre of the infirmary to wash away disease - both symbolically and literally (John Brunsdon; pers. comm.). A caducius, the serpentine healing staff of Hermes, can be seen on the floor in the centre of the chapel. This pictogram, which appears to be coming from within the stone, was severely damaged during the renovations of 2011 and is now barely visible. At one time, light would stream through the window (now blocked) above the altar at sunrise on the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8th.) with which it is also perfectly aligned.

The chapel was restored in the fifteenth-century using some of the fabric from the original - most notably the northwest window frame. It is uncertain when the chapel was dedicated to Saint Margaret - before or after the reformation. Neither is it known which Saint Margaret it is dedicated to, although it is certain that it has no connection to Saint Margaret of Scotland (Tim Hopkinson-Ball; pers. comm.). After the reformation, the infirmary building was replaced by the present almshouses, each unit having it's own fireplace and sleeping loft. One of the rooms, in the middle of the surviving half of the building, now accomodates a new Magdalen Shrine which is opened to the public, for silent prayer and meditation, by a group of volunteers at the times shown below:





(The shrine room was closed to the public on March 9th, 2011, for an estimated period of 4-6 months whilst repairs were undertaken.)



The Magdalen Shrine, in the abbey hospital, is situated behind behind Saint Margaret's Chapel, 38 Magdalene Street, Glastonbury, which is also closed for repairs during this period.

The shrine was dismantled on April 15th by the trustees of the Margaret and Mary Charity (#1128332) and its contents are now in the care of It is set up temporarily at the chapel of the Holy Trinity, Godney until renovations are complete.

(Update: Upon completion of the renovations in November 2011, the trustees announced that neither the shrine nor the chapel will be open to the public until April 2012). Watch this space.


The surviving, thirteenth-century west wall of the Saint Mary Magdalene infirmary, - directly facing Bride's mound.





Mounted copies of the icons below, from Saint Margaret's Chapel, may be obtained by contacting us or by visiting our stall at the Glastonbury Country Market on Tuesday mornings at the Town Hall.



Our Lady of Glastonbury


Theotokos of St Margaret's



Archangel Saint Michael


Saint Margaret of Scotland


Saint Joseph of Arimathea