The core myths of the Celtic peoples centre on the great cycle of stories based on the life and exploits of King Arthur. They link Arthur to a poetic idea of Britain as a kind of paradise. The historic figure of Arthur as a victorious 5th century warrior, leading Britons into battle against Saxon invaders, has so far proved impossible to confirm. So where does the legend come from? Why has Arthur remained so important to us, and why are there so many places associated with him?

Hic jacet sepultus

Glastonbury Abbey, in Somerset, is said be the final resting place of King Arthur. In 1184, a great fire at destroyed the monastic buildings. Pilgrim visits fell but in 1191 the alleged discovery of Arthur and Guinevere's tomb provided fresh impetus for visiting. The abbot discovered a hollowed oak trunk containing two skeletons. Above was a leaden cross with the inscription Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia ‘Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon’.

Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury

Baptised on a boulder

It is believed there has been a church here at Stobo in the Scottish Borders, since as early as the 6th century. Legend has it that St Kentigern converted Merlin Sylvestris, the wizard associated with King Arthur, to Christianity and baptised him on a boulder nearby. Merlin had fled to the forest after King Gwenddoleu had been defeated and killed at the Battle of Arfderydd near Arthuret in 573. There is a rock known as the 'Altar Stone' and a stained glass window in Stobo Kirk.

Stobo Kirk, Stobo

Arthur’s last battle

Arthur’s last battle was at Camlann, also known as Camboglanna, in Cumbria. If he did die near the Scottish borders, it would make more sense for him to be buried locally, which is why Arthuret church, with its 6th century origins, has such a strong claim. The church overlooks a site of the Battle of Arfderydd, fought in 573 AD, in which Myrddin (Merlin) killed his nephew. This drove Myrddin mad and he spent the rest of his life roaming the Forests of Celyddon.

St Michael & All Angels, Arthuret

Sir Gawain’s cell

A flight of worn stone steps leads up to the tiny chapel clinging to the Pembrokeshire coast, where St Govan (or Gawain) had his cell. Most of it dates from the 13th century, but parts may be as early as the 6th century. One story connects it to Sir Gawain, King Arthur's nephew. According to local legend he is buried here, having retired to live out his days as a hermit after Arthur's death. This does, however, conflict with other stories which place Gawain's death before the final battle in which Arthur met his end.

St Govan Chapel, Bosherton

Carantoc the dragon tamer

St Carantoc was the son of Ceredig, King of Cardigan, but he chose the life of a hermit and lived in a cave above the harbour of Llangranog, where there is also a holy well. According to legend, his portable altar was lost as he crossed the Severn Sea. Carantoc went to King Arthur to ask his help to recover the altar. The King asked him to tame a dragon that was troubling the neighbourhood in return. After Carantoc had prayed, the dragon came running to him and bent his head, lifting neither wing nor claw against him.

St Carannog, Llangrannog

Conceiving a legend

In about 1138 Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain contains the earliest written mention of Tintagel, Cornwall, in the tale of how Arthur was conceived there by Uther Pendragon, King of Britain, and Queen Igerna (Igraine). Geoffrey described its dramatic physical setting, evidently appreciating its romantic nature.

Tintagel Castle Chapel, Tintagel

Once and future King

There are very few churches dedicated to St Dubricius. He was born near Hereford and became a monk and important church leader whose most important centres were at Hentland and Moccas in the Wye valley. In medieval legends he becomes the ‘archbishop of Caerleon’ who crowns King Arthur at Colchester. He died around 545 AD.

St Dubricius, Hentland

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

With King Arthur: Legend of the Sword hitting cinemas this May discover the legendary locations of King Arthur's Britain and the epic filming spots with this interactive map from VisitBritain.

Find out more

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