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Myths & Legends
KING ARTHUR’S FRENCH ODYSSEY - pArt 2
Avallon – the Beginning, and the End
There are many aspects of King Arthur’s story that cause controversy. Oddly enough, the one that doesn’t is ‘Avalon’ – the name of Arthur’s last resting place. For example, few question ‘Avalon’ in the way that they question the ‘real’ location of Camelot. They question the location of Arthur’s battles – his birthplace - his parentage - his ethnicity – his very existence. They ask, ‘Where is Camelot?’, but often they ask (in very obscure Arthurian tradition) ‘What is Avalon?’ And so we get the answers that we always get - the answers that have been widely accepted since the end of the 12th century: (variations on) Avalon is a Celtic otherworld – similar to Christian heaven or classical arcadia. It is a western nirvana – the attainment of a higher state of being – a place from where re-incarnation is possible – a mythical paradise – the Isle of Apples – the Welsh/Celtic Yniswitrin - most closely associated with the town of Glastonbury in the county of Somerset, in England. Since the 12th century ‘Avalon’ has been establishing itself as a Concept rather than a physical place.
"...there was not, and never has been as far as anyone can tell, a physical place called ‘The Isle of Avalon’ anywhere in Britain"
So, the question ‘Where is Avalon?’ has hardly ever been asked because Glastonbury, as a kind of physical embodiment of Concept Avalon, has never seriously been challenged. The fact remains that there was not, and never has been as far as anyone can tell, a physical place called ‘The Isle of Avalon’ anywhere in Britain. But there is an ancient town of Avallon in Burgundy, France.
In some books when writers reach Arthur’s final journey, they often mention in passing that there is an Avallon in Burgundy. But there they usually stop – leaving behind, with an almost Gallic shrug, a large question mark. One writer does grasp the nettle. Geoffrey Ashe who presents his Arthur Riothamus thesis in The Discovery of King Arthur (i) goes much further and suggests that Avallon in Burgundy is a strong candidate for the location where the real Arthur sought sanctuary after his final known battle. It was his thesis that prompted this research. The premise is therefore, that Avallon in Burgundy France is that same Avalon both mythically connected to the canon of Arthurian legend, as originally expressed by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and also connected to the historical facts surrounding Arthur Riothamus, Over-king of the Britons called to fight against the Visigoths in Gaul in 470 AD, as championed by Geoffrey Ashe.
This convergence of legend and fact in 470 AD in Burgundy, is the starting point for the research – but it is also the conclusion of the Arthur narrative. This is very helpful as we can work backwards and try to piece together events leading up to that date, and discover all the routes leading to Avallon. There is, of course, no absolute full-stop at Avallon – in either fact or legend. The enduring fascination with King Arthur is this question mark – Arthur’s alleged immortality. When no-one, in fact or legend, witnessed his death, then the narrative conclusion is full of potency and potential. Arthur Riothamus, mercenary soldier and Over-king of the Britons, probably died in Avallon, Burgundy. Fabulous King Arthur, the once and future king, lies in Avalon, waiting to return to lead his country in its hour of greatest need. Is it possible that Arthur’s grave could still be found in Burgundy?
© Marilyn Floyde 2007
Next - About Avallon, Burgundy
2016: King Arthur's French Odyssey - Avallon in Burgundy by Marilyn Floyde, has now been republished with fresh findings. Your can order it from www.islandofavallon.co.uk. Now also translated into French.