Vandals chop down Glastonbury Holy Thorn tree

People gather in front of the remains of the Glastonbury Holy Thorn treeThe Glastonbury Holy Thorn tree, said to be descended from the miraculous hawthorn planted by Joseph of Arimathea 2000 years ago after reaching landfall in England, has been hacked down to a 6-foot stump. Vandals cut off all the branches under cover of darkness Thursday night, leaving behind only the stump festooned with the prayers of pilgrims.

Authorities speculate that the violence might have been done in reaction to Wednesday’s annual cutting ceremony in which a budding sprig is cut from another Glastonbury Holy Thorn relative on the nearby grounds of the Church of St. John and presented to the Queen to adorn her Christmas table. The timing is certainly a notable coincidence. Another theory going around is that it was an act of vengeance against Edward James, the recently indicted major shareholder of the Crown Currency Exchange, a company which went under in October leaving 8,000 creditors short £16 million ($25 million). Inter-denominational conflict is also a possibility.

Glastonbury Holy Thorn intactAccording to legend, Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy man who gave his tomb to hold the body of Christ crucified, landed on the coast of England a mile or so away. He and his party trudged to the hill then rested on the spot thereafter dubbed Weary-all-Hill (now Wearyall Hill) in honor of their eponymous weariness. St. Joseph thrust his staff, a dried hawthorn branch that once belonged to Jesus, into the ground and the staff miraculously grew into a tree. It also miraculously blooms twice a year, once in the spring along with every other tree, and once at Christmas. That’s the miraculous bit.

Interestingly, trees grown from seeds and planted cuttings of the Holy Thorn do not bloom twice a year; only grafted ones, and there are several of those grafts dotting the landscape in and around Glastonbury.

A major pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, the tree was seen as a symbol of Popish superstition and cut down and burned by Cromwell’s Puritan troops during the English Civil War, but in secret the faithful kept its roots and propagated cuttings therefrom ensuring that the tree would continue to live on in its descendants. The current Wearyall Hill tree was planted from one of those heritage pieces in the early ’50s.

Police are going door to door and interviewing potential witnesses. The spot is a popular one for runners and dog walkers so there’s a chance someone might have seen something probative in the wee hours. Meanwhile, Katherine Gorbing, the director of Glastonbury Abbey, holds out hope that the tree will grow back from the large remaining stump.

Hawthorns are sturdy, and this wouldn’t be the first time the Wearyall Holy Thorn recovered from a vicious sawing. According to an 18th century history of Glastonbury, the tree had a double trunk in Queen Elizabeth’s time. A devout Puritan took offense at the tree and sawed off the larger of its trunks. He was prevented from getting to the second one by an unfortunate, some say miraculous, sawing accident which severely cut his leg and, when a bark chip flew up, put out one of his eyes. The hewn trunk, now on the ground and connected to the roots by only a tiny segment of bark, continued to bloom for 30 years as did the intact trunk.


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Comment by debbie
2010-12-15 09:32:30

It makes me feel so sad that someone can have such hatred in their hearts that they could do this . From your photos I can see shoots that are coming from the bottom and if the ground around is fed and nurtured ..and a fence erected around it ,then I feel sure it will put out new shoots further up the trunk . Hold back from tying devotions on to the tree for a while folks . I would wish the fence not to be a permanant one. One last thing …I hope they catch the vandals and put them in the village stocks .

Comment by Sarah
2010-12-22 22:50:35

I’m not at all religious, but having been to Glastonbury and knowing what a sweet beautiful little town it is, and how graceful all its ruins and its Tor are – this deeply deeply saddens me.
I’ll send positive thoughts the way of the stump, and hopefully come spring (or maybe Christmas?) a little branch will start to sprout.

Comment by Eric
2011-01-15 10:17:57

I had the great opportunity to visit England twice, once in 2002 and again in 2003. I made a point both times of visiting Glastonbury, after I had grown up with the legends of Joseph of Arimathea and the Arthurian legends. My time spent in the Abbey ruins, in town, and
Whoever did this is obviously a sociopath, literally, someone with no conscience. Whatever their reasons this is, in a way, an act of terrorism, but it is mostly a tragic act by an idiot.
I truly hope the tree grows again; what a wonderful symbol of death and resurrection that would be!!
My heart goes out to the good people of Glastonbury.

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