The Glastonbury Thorn is a legendary and symbolic tree associated with Glastonbury, England. It holds a significant place in local folklore and traditions, and its story is intertwined with both Christian and mythological narratives.
According to local legend, the Glastonbury Thorn is said to have originated from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea. He drove the staff into the earth on Wearyall Hill, and which became a thorn tree, flowering each year at Christmas.
The Glastonbury Thorn is known for its unique characteristic of blooming twice a year – once around Christmas and again around Easter. This unusual phenomenon, if true, adds to the tree’s mystical reputation. The Glastonbury Thorn is often considered a symbol of the fusion of Christian and pagan beliefs in the region.
There are references to the Glastonbury Thorn in historical records and accounts from different periods. It’s mentioned in texts from the medieval period and beyond, emphasizing its longstanding place in local lore. The Glastonbury Thorn has inspired various traditions and customs in Glastonbury. Cuttings from the original tree and its descendants were given as gifts to royalty and other dignitaries.
The original Glastonbury Thorn tree is believed to have survived for centuries. However, during the English Civil War in the seventeenth century, it was supposedly cut down in 1643 by a Puritan zealot, by order of Parliament, as symbols associated with monarchy and religious traditions were often targeted during that time. Despite the loss of the original tree, descendants and cuttings from the Glastonbury Thorn were propagated and cultivated. Some Glastonbury Thorn trees, claimed to be descendants of the original, are still present in the area today, notably in front of the Church of Saint John the Baptist, from which a sprig is sent every Christmas to the reigning monarch.
Various other legends exist about this Holy Tree. Some accounts say that the original tree, from which Joseph of Arimathea’s staff had been cut, grew from a thorn from the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ. Local Somerset legends also tell of those who wished the tree harm. Usually the Puritans were blamed in these stories, but the tree always seemed to get the better of them. One particular assailant attacked the thorn with an axe, but it slipped from the trunk and embedded itself in the man’s leg, while wood chips flew into his eyes.
An alternative legend says that the Glastonbury Thorn was not a thorn tree at all but a walnut tree. Early writers described this tree, again said to have sprung into life from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, saying that it budded on Saint Barnabas’ Day (11 June) and never before. It seems that, until this tree was cut down, it was held in the same degree of reverence as the Glastonbury Thorn, for both trees, walnut and thorn, were thought, by some, to have once existed in the town.
The existing descendant is of Mediterranean origin (Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora), and some have speculated that the original tree was brought from Arabia by a returning crusader.
The Lyfe of Joseph of Armathy | c. 1350
Physical topography in Britain and elsewhere