King Arthur’s Round Table Found?

According to the UK’s Telegraph,”Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s most famous Knight believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester.” If the researchers are correct in their conclusions, the “table” was not a table in the ordinary sense of the word, but a repurposed old Roman amphitheater that could fit over 1000 people. What led researchers to favor the Chester site were the ruins of a shrine to Christian martyrs inside it, for such a shrine was described in the earliest account of Arthur’s life, by the sixth-century monk, Gildas: “The discovery of the shrine within the amphitheatre means that Chester was the site of Arthur’s court and his legendary Round Table.”

Those with an interest in things Arthurian may like to read the following, from Gary Potter’s Chivalry and Our Lady:

If chivalry reached its highest development in the Middle Ages and is exemplified by the Christian knight of those times, its origin is more ancient. This is not to speak of the Romans, among whom the true origin can be located, but of the men, including many heroes, who first gave form to Christian society when the old Empire was gone from the West, and who did so by living the Faith. Foremost among them was Arthur.

Is not his name, King Arthur, the one that comes to mind when we think of the first Christian leader whose heroism and skill at arms routs all enemies of the Faith and the civilization born of it — his name and the names of his Knights of the Round Table, Percival, Lancelot, Gawain, et al.?

The fame of Arthur has lasted for fifteen centuries. Children believe in him, but most adults today seem to think he was never anything but a myth, simply a figure of romance. Scholars know that there is documentary evidence that he existed.

It was traced by Elizabeth Jenkins in her 1975 book, The Mystery of King Arthur . To summarize:

In the British Museum is a collection of documents under the title Historical Miscellany. The documents include a set known as Easter Tables. These were tables kept by monks wherein was calculated the dates on which Easter, the greatest of movable feasts, would fall in a given number of years. The tables were arranged in columns. On the left were the dates. On the right would be noted corresponding events of importance as they took place. The latter are called Easter Annals. Some of the dates in the Annals are disputed. Thus it is that some say the following entry is dated 499, others argue 518: “Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulder for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors.” For “shoulder,” Jenkins explains, we can read shield.

Another entry, for 539, reads: “The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Modred perished. And there was plague in Britain and Ireland.”

Also in the Historical Miscellany is a collection of writings by an eighth-century Welsh monk named Nennius. It is known as the Historia Brittonum . Nennius describes what he had done: “I have heaped together all that I found from the annals of the Romans, the writings of the holy fathers; and the traditions of our own old men.”

The monk really starts to get our attention when he relates, for the year 488: “Then Arthur fought against them in those days, with the Kings of the Britons, but he himself was the leader of the battles.”

“Them” were the still-pagan Saxons. What Nennius is telling us is that after the Roman withdrawal from Britain, several rulers of small British kingdoms united to fight these pagans, and Arthur was the general who commanded their forces. What is truly exciting — in terms of our subject — is that Nennius lists twelve battles fought by Arthur. The eighth in the list was fought at Tor Guinnion. No one today knows where that was, but “here Arthur carried the image of Mary, Ever-virgin, on his shoulder, through whose virtue and that of Jesus Christ,” the pagans were beaten.

The picture we can form in our mind’s eye of King Arthur bearing this image of Our Lady on his shield is more than arresting if we consider how like her the image may have been. It will seem to us that it could have been very like her if we recall a particular, very old tradition. (You can find references to it in the old Catholic Encyclopedia and in various hagiographies.)

It is that St. Joseph of Arimathea, he in whose tomb the body of Our Lord was buried and who certainly knew His mother, married the daughter of St. Longinus, the centurion who thrust his lance into Christ’s side, was subsequently converted, and was eventually martyred in Mantua in Italy. According to the tradition, St. Joseph and his wife, the daughter of St. Longinus, journeyed to Britain and settled there, even as St. Lazarus and his sisters, Sts. Mary and Martha, settled in Gaul (today’s France), all of them being faithful to Our Lord’s commandment to His followers to make disciples of all the nations. Here is what is important to us: A direct descendant of St. Joseph and his wife is supposed to have been Igerne of Cornwall, the mother of King Arthur.

Inasmuch as any family will cherish the memory of an ancestor associated with an illustrious historical personage, an ancestor whose recollections of the personage, including even his appearance, will be passed down from generation to generation, is it not possible — is it not likely — that Arthur’s mother would grow up hearing from her family recollections of the Mother of God? They would still be fairly fresh. After all, no more time (a mere couple of centuries) would have elapsed between the demise of St. Joseph and the lifetime of Igerne’s parents, than between the death, say, of George Washington and a family of today with an ancestor who knew him. Would Igerne not have shared these stories with her son? Could a description of Our Lady have been part of what she had to tell? If so, would he not see to it that the image on his shield corresponded to what his mother told him?

Obviously it is impossible to say for sure. However, we do see here a link between Our Lady and him who remains, after all these centuries, the very type of the chivalrous Christian knight, for he was chief of all who gathered at the Round Table.