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Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree

I have visited Glastonbury many times over the last few decades, but only got around to visiting the Holy Thron on Wearyall Hill for the first time in September 2011. Unfortunately it was in a poor state after being vandalised the previous December and then apparently further damaged by souvenir hunters.

The thorn is a middle eastern Crategus Monogyna Biflora which according to tradition is a descendant of a tree connected to Joseph of Arimathea, the man who arranged the burial of Jesus Christ.

From the 12th century and the works of Robert de Boron, Joseph of Arimathea has been associated with the Holy Grail, which he was said to have received from an apparition of Christ. He arranged for the Holy Grail to be brought to Britain and it is during his supposed visit to Glastonbury, roughly 2000 years ago that the story of the thorn begins.

Whilst on Wearyall Hill, Joseph either stabbed the earth with his staff, releasing a seed that would eventually grow into the first Glastonbury Holy Thorn, or, he lay down to rest and whilst his staff was on the ground it took root itself and grew into the famous tree. Obviously legend and the tree further enhanced the desirability of Glastonbury Abbey (where the grave of King Arthur was reputedly discovered) as a site pilgrimage.

The thorn on Wearyall Hill was planted in 1951 from a descendant of the orginal thorn which was destroyed by Cromwells troops during the English Civil War, but cuttings were secretly taken and cared for by the Glastonbury community, from which the later trees are derived.

There is also a tradition of sending a budded branch from the tree to the monarch each Christmas by the Mayor and Vicar of Glastonbury. This tradition began back during the reign of King James I.

Another thorn tree at Glastonbury Abbey, which provided the cutting for the 1951 Wearyall Hill thorn died in 1991 and eventually removed in early 1992.

On the 19th September a reporter for the Daily Mail in an article named 'Killed off after 2,000 years: Glastonbury's vandalised Holy Thorn Tree must be replaced after 'trophy hunters' snap off its new shoots' stated:

A sacred tree which came back to life after it was nearly destroyed by vandals must now be replaced - thanks to trophy hunters who have broken off its new shoots.'

'The Holy Thorn Tree in Glastonbury Somerset - which can trace its roots back 2,000 years to the death of Jesus - had its branches hacked off in December last year.

It miraculously started to grow new shoots earlier this year and made a fragile recovery over the summer.

But some of the new growth has now been removed and locals suspect trophy hunters will use them to try and grow their own holy tree.

The tree was also damaged by ribbons tied around the trunk and coins and other items that have been shoved into the bark.

Well-wishers have even poured honey, Guinness and cider around the roots, causing further damage.

Local councillor John Coles, a former Mayor of Glastonbury, said it will be replaced with a new one grafted from the original branches which were hacked off.

'People don't realise the damage they are doing. I am forever removing these ribbons because they block sunlight to the trunk,' he said.

'We've had people pulling things off - the new growth and bark on the trunk. We think it would have survived if it was just left alone.

'There is still life in the trunk but we doubt that it will ever recover. It is very sad but we think the best thing is to replace it.'

The new tree has been grafted by experts at Kew Gardens and is likely to be planted nearby to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee next year.

It could be monitored by a CCTV camera to prevent a repeat of the damage caused to the current tree, Mr Coles added.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree

The following article entitled 'New hope as Holy Thorn is planted in Glastonbury' appeared in the Somerset Gazette on Thursday 5 April 2012.

In a quiet ceremony on Palm Sunday, a new Holy Thorn tree was planted on Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury.

The new cutting is close to the tree that was hacked down by vandals in December 2010.Rev David MacGeoch, Alan Fear with Frank and Edward James plant the new Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury

The people responsible were never caught.

The new tree was grafted from the branches of a Holy Thorn cutting from Thornhayes Nursery in Devon, whose parent tree came from Glastonbury Abbey. The tree was blessed by Rev David MacGeogh, who presided over the ceremony.

Edward James, one of the landowners, said the tree would be protected by a sturdy cage, and there are hopes to list it.

Anyone who damages a tree protected by a preservation order can face a fine of up to £20,000.
“I was approached by Glastonbury Conservation Society about the idea of having a new Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill,” said Mr James.

“I spoke to my brothers, and we agreed that, yes, it would be appropriate.

“It was very important to us that in keeping with the legend of the tree, it was a ‘Christian’ tree and we invited Reverend MacGeogh to lead us in prayer and to bless the tree.”

He said the vandalised tree was continuing to show some signs of life.

“There are some shoots on it, but the problem is that whenever it starts to shoot, people start taking the leaves.

“I’ve found people pouring beer and honey onto the roots – I know they think they are helping, but really the tree just needs to be left alone to give it the best chance of recovery.”

The vandalised tree was the subject of a 30-minute Radio 4 programme, called The Mystery of the Holy Thorn, which aired on Wednesday morning, as the Central Somerset Gazette went to press.

The Mayor of Glastonbury, Councillor Bill Knight said: “It was a very low-key affair, but I am delighted that a replacement tree has been planted in the town.

“I really hope that it will last another 100 years.”



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