The French government's commissions to document and preserve their national historical monuments through photographs greatly impressed Roger Fenton. In the early 1850s he began to photograph England's historical and architectural splendors.
The Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary at Glastonbury was one of the oldest abbeys in England. The graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, the legendary rulers of post-Roman Britain, were allegedly discovered in the cemetery at Glastonbury, and their bones were reburied in the abbey church. After a disastrous fire and centuries of strife within the church, the monasteries at Glastonbury were dissolved and the abbey became a quarry, although some ruins, like the ones in this view, remained.
The ravages of time and the force of nature are evident. Fenton's photograph evokes the passage of time: the lush cascade of ivy spills over the remaining transept arch, devouring the ruins and metaphorically reclaiming what is left of the abbey for the past.