King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Building

Sorry, that’s just not working for me.

Historians claim to have found King Arthur’s Round table, and guess what? The Round Table wasn’t really a table at all but an amphitheater.  Here is part of the claim:

Camelot historian Chris Gidlow said: “The first accounts of the Round Table show that it was nothing like a dining table but was a venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time.

As far as I can tell the earliest account of the Round Table is from Wace’s Roman de Brut a translation of which I have in Arthur King of Britain (ed. by Rechard L Brengle).  This is what Wace says:

Arthur never heard speak of a knight in praise, but he caused him to be numbered of his household.  So that he might he took him to himself, for help in time of need.  Because of these noble lords about his hall, of whom each knight pained himself to be the hardiest champion, and none would count him the least praiseworthy, Arthur made the Round Table, so reputed of the Britons.  This Round Table was ordained of Arthur that when his fair fellowship sat to meat their chairs should be high alike, their service equal, and none before or after his comrade.  Thus no man could boast that he was exalted above his fellow, for all alike were gathered around the board, and none was alien at the breaking of Arthur’s bread.

Apparently, there are earlier accounts that point the ethos of the Round Table, that is, the code of Chivalry, and there are other pieces of furniture and landmarks associated with Arthur in the earlier accounts.  Perhaps someone more expert than I on these matters can tell us what Chris Gidlow means when he says that “the first accounts of the Round table” indicate that it was a “venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time.”

In any case, it is virtually impossible to image how Wace’s account could be referring to an amphitheater.

Gidlow, it seems, may be referring to the earliest account of Arthur given to us by Gildas (c. 540):

Mr Gidlow said: “In the 6th Century, a monk named Gildas, who wrote the earliest account of Arthur’s life, referred to both the City of Legions and to a martyr’s shrine within it. That is the clincher. The discovery of the shrine within the amphitheatre means that Chester was the site of Arthur’s court and his legendary Round Table.”

My anthology only has excerpts of chapters 25 and 26 of Gildas’ De Excido et Conquestu Britanniae, where Ambrosius Aurelianus is explicitly mentioned. I find nothing there about “the City of Legions” or “a martyr’s shrine.” Sounds to me like this is speculation extrapolated from speculation.

A little overconfidence goes a long way.

9 thoughts on “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Building

  1. Arthur’s round table wasn’t really a round table.

    The Holy Grail wasn’t actually the cup Christ drank from, but really Mary Magdalen and the bloodline of Christ.

    The Templars weren’t devout monastic knights whose order was organized by St. Bernard of Clairvaux,but were actually corrupt knights seeking fortune and manipulating Medieval politics.

    Richard Cœur de Lion was a 12th Century homosexual.

    I’m not seeing a pattern. Are you? =] It seems that someone, I’m not sure WHO, is adamant about discrediting our Catholic Heritage and disassociating us from the past. Without a heritage, we really have no sound reason for clinging to the “Faith of our Fathers,” do we?

  2. May I advise our Dear Christian Knight to adopt a little less surety re: speculation extracted from speculation and admit some humility on what we do not know (ie a little eastern apophatic spirituality?)

    I grew up near the site, and the whole area is haunted with historical vestiges that inspired JRR Tolkein (he travelled the area by train as a child from his home in Birmingham to the seaside resorts on summer vacation)

    Here’s the relationship of a nearby monastic foundation Church (lost to the spoils of Henry VIII’s dissolution)to the Area C pit excavated for artifacts of the timber structure at the center of the Roman amphitheatre
    http://www.chester.gov.uk/amphitheatre/excaarea.htm

    Note also in Area B pit the following intriguing archeological findings:

    “A series of curving trenches excavated to the north of the cellar which probably represents part of a planting scheme to a formal garden dating to the 16th or 17th century. These formal gardens were layed out on top of demolition rubble belonging to an earlier group of buildings. We currently think that this dramatic change to the sites appearance was brought about by the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-16th century.”

    If this were a Christian martyrs shrine then it stands to reason it may also have once been a consecrated altar, no?

    We modern skeptics can miss out on an exponential expansion of our comprehension of the faith (polycentricisms of various facets of “form” in time and space) when we reject experience outright. Consider the popular devotion to the sacred heart on France: simple visual sentimentality for many — even dangerous adherence to externalities of the physical organ neglecting the metaphysical associations therein (sacrificial loving fidelity) — until you recall that the 1500-yr old medieval relic of the crown of thorns envisaged by Margaret Mary is housed in the Sacred Couer Cathedral treasury and is venerated every Friday, not just the first Fridays she advocated for… and is key to the identity of France as first daughter of the Church…

    Here’s the BBC on the Hinton St Mary mosaics from a couple of centuries before Arthur, contemporaneous with our dearly beloved Patrician beatus, St. Patrick :
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/VfupdXVjTM6crACGDU-6uA

    and more, here’s Archbishop Nichols gift of a pilgrim’s badge (video clip explains the spirituality behind ex votos, similar to those found in the Roman excavations at Chester) to the collection:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/Fu0n1oLzSnKRXPy4qF6Duw

    The connections to fable may not be your cup of tea, but forgive the pun, dig a little deeper and you may find a beverage more to your liking… if a chalice pops up we’ll all rejoice that wine may have been consecrated on the site, no?

  3. And charming for me in July the month of devotion to the Precious Blood, here’s more evidence for a specifically CATHOLIC Christian devotion at this location, a Pelican seal:
    http://www.chester.gov.uk/amphitheatre/finds-postmed.htm#thematrix
    an ancient image of Christ’s sacrifice, present to us at the Holy Altars. Sadly Chester was ravaged during the English Civil war, so what Henry VIII didn’t confiscate, Cromwell’s Roundheads did their best to obliterate…

  4. Clare,

    I can always use a bit more humility. I can definitely be a bit of an old crank.

    Yet, I still find no reason to conclude with any surety that the amphitheater in Chester is the basis for the Round Table in the Arthurian legends. At least nothing in the article linked to or mentioned by the “experts” in the article seems to be probative.

    That is not at all to say that the sight is unimportant historically or even from a Catholic point of view.

  5. No quibbles there Fr. Geiger, no scold me: the journalists did a poor job of recounting the exact bibliography as regards the British roots of the French troubadour Chretien de Troyes “Camelot” – FYI. ‘The City Of The Legion’ was first recorded by Nennius’ in his Historia Brittonum of the 9th C as a location of one of Arthur’s battles – this could well be Caerleon which also has substantial ruins of Roman fortifications and a round amphitheatre. A peer of yours the Welsh monastic Geoffrey of Monmouth described in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) how Arthur held court at Caerleon. calling it ‘City Of The Legion’ (maybe taken from Nennius). The French poet versified the history some fifty years later contemporaneous with Wace. The Chester archeologists simply claim that their site has as good a pedigree to be the city of legions as the city at the other end of the Welsh marches, particularly as in the Welsh language they both were named the same thing!
    “its other and more enduring Welsh name was Caerlleon, literally “the fortress-city of the legions”, a name identical with that of the Roman fortress at the other end of the Welsh Marches at Caerleon in Monmouthshire, namely Isca Augusta. The colloquial modern Welsh name is the shortened form, Caer. The early Old English speaking Anglo Saxon settlers used a name which had the same meaning, Legacæstir, which was current until the 11th century, when, in a further parallel with Welsh usage, the first element fell out of use and the simplex name Chester emerged. ”

    The risk of falling for romantic and fanciful tales (Dan Brown et al) instead of the Truth of the Lover and his Bride is of course not to be discounted, but I would so much prefer if we in the Church could at least hint at the powerful poetic attraction of the Model the early medievals based their fanciful practice of chivalry upon: Christ and could be courageous enough to engage the facts and indicate what they are pointing at, rather than simply negating the credentials of the fact finders… it appears a tad meanspirited to the uninitiated. In this vein I would have welcomed the sort of entertainment of wonder and awe that the experts speak of in another episode of the BBC Radio history series linked to earlier, on the Holy Thorn Reliquary:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/pZ-Jq-iaTOiazy-YLBF2fg
    Forgive me if my tone offends, I’ll say an Ave each for they, thee and me!

  6. Interested to see my name crop up here! Never speak to the press is my advice. The syndicated article had very many errors in it, unfortunately. The earliest English account of the Round Table, Layamon’s Brut (slightly later than Wace’s French version) gives its large dimensions and magical origin, made by a carpenter Arthur encountered in Cornwall. St Gildas did not in real life write the first life of King Arthur (though in later writings he is credited with writing on the Kings of Britain and in praise of Arthur). In De excidio he says that the sites of the martyrdoms of Alban of Verulamium and Julius and Aaron of the City of the Legions are inaccessible to Britons and have the potential to act as shining beacons to the British resistance. Alban’s martyrium has always been known, but Julius and Aaron are disputed between Chester and Caerleon and, more recently, York. Archaeological evidence seemed to point to a martyrium at Chester associated with the Amphitheatre there, though the archaeologist responsible now denies the link. Evidence that Chester was fortified by a dark age warlord strengthened the contention that Arthur’s ninth battle, at the City of the Legion, was at that site, reinforcing the view that City of the Legion and City of the Legions were the same dark age location, Chester. Which was all a bit complex for the ‘so you’ve really found Camelot/the Round table?’ scoop. Hope this clarifies and check out my books for more detailed discussion.

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