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.