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The Fate of the Glastonbury Thorn

The Glastonbury thorn has been hacked this year on the very day that a sprig of it is traditionally taken to the Queen.

I can't quite get from the stories whether there is enough of the trunk left for this token of the type to survive. (Readers, what do you think?) Evidently the intention is instead for it to be replanted from cuttings that have grown elsewhere in the town as it was after Cromwell & Co. hacked it down during the English Civil War.

I don't think the director of the Glastonbury Abbey (why is a woman the director of the Glastonbury Abbey?) should be calling this act of vandalism "mindless," as if it were perpetrated by androids. But that's the way crime is always spoken of nowadays. Nobody commits crimes. They "happen" or they are "mindless."

One story, which I can't seem to find again now, implied that there may be no prosecution even if the perpetrators are found, because there was no preservation order on the tree. So vandalism isn't illegal by itself in England anymore?

I hope they catch them and punish them to the full extent of the law, such as it is.

Comments (16)

Well, here's the list of likely suspects:
A rabid atheist, who is ironically a self professed "tree-hugger" environmentalist,
A Muhammadan,
A lackey of the Magic Circle

One story suggested it might have something to do with the possible financial crimes of the fellow who owns the private property where the tree stood. (He's in jail right now. I don't know exactly what he supposedly did. Looks like something akin to embezzlement.)

I don't know why, but this seems rather implausible to me.

my guess: teenagers

That's not very informative, George R. Teenagers with what motive?

In any event, I'm more concerned with

a) what punishment they will receive


b) whether the tree can survive, be replanted, etc.

By the way, anybody know anything about the claim I saw in a news story that "experts" say it really did originate in the Middle East? Is that on the up-and-up? What kind of experts, and what was their evidence? And do thorn trees like it really grow in the Middle East?

"Crataegus monogyna, known as Common Hawthorn, is a species of hawthorn native to Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia."

Thee seem to be numerous sources that can be used to reestablish the tree.

Yeah, I guess it's just a Common Hawthorn and was probably all over England to begin with, but this is a "sport" of it that flowers twice a year and hence has "biflorida" (sp?) added to the name.

As I recall, that thorn isn't (wasn't) on private property. It stood on the Abbey grounds between the gift shop and the Abbey ruins.

Looks to me like there may be more than one. Here's the story I was thinking of:


Avon and Somerset police have begun an investigation but because there was no tree preservation order on the Holy Thorn, it means the vandals are unlikely to be prosecuted. The land on which the Holy Thorn stood is owned by Edward James, who was arrested this week in connection with an investigation into failed currency exchange firm Crown Currency Exchange, of which he is a director.

my god.

you are all so, so, stupid.

In what way, TJ? What are you talking about?

I'm asking because I suspect that, if you reply, the "stupid" people are going to teach you a few lessons in intellectual life.

So, bring it on. Please.

b) whether the tree can survive, be replanted, etc.

By the way, anybody know anything about the claim I saw in a news story that "experts" say it really did originate in the Middle East? Is that on the up-and-up? What kind of experts, and what was their evidence? And do thorn trees like it really grow in the Middle East?

Fr Z. has some background from the British newspaper, The Mail Online:

Christian legend dictates that Jesus’s great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, came to Britain after the crucifixion 2,000 years ago bearing the Holy Grail – the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. He visited Glastonbury and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, just below the Tor, planting a seed for the original thorn tree.

Roundheads felled the tree during the English Civil War, when forces led by Oliver Cromwell (pictured) waged a vicious battle against the Crown. However, locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding it in secret locations around Glastonbury.

It was then replanted on the hill in 1951. Other cuttings were also grown and placed around the town – including its famous Glastonbury Abbey. Experts had verified that the tree – known as the Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora – originated from the Middle East. A sprig of holy thorns was taken from the Thorn tree by Glastonbury’s St Johns Church on Wednesday and sent to the Queen. The 100-year-old tradition will see the thorns sit on Her Majesty’s dinner table on Christmas Day.

My expertise is in grass wood biomechanics, but the principles apply to trees, as well. If a tree is cut, the phloem will secrete slime plugs, much like clotting factors in blood, to try to staunch the loss of water. If the loss can be shut down, the tree can survive. If not, it will die. If the roots can be salvaged before the tree dies, it can be replanted. It all depends on how much time has elapsed in this case. Cutting from the tree have been used to make a tree that was brought to Washington, D. C., so it is possible to re-grow the tree, in any case.

why is a woman the director of the Glastonbury Abbey?

Because it is a tourist spot and not being used as an abbey.

The Chicken

I hope the jerks who committed this act of desecration are found and severely punished. I think a public whipping using a bundle of switches (with the thorns still attached!) taken from the cut down tree would be a most fitting punishment for the vandals.

It appears there are quite a few. A mature tree should be worth enough to push the crime into a felony if the relevant English law is properly written. This is one of may offers on line.

"We will be offering a limited number of Glastonbury Thorn trees - grafted on roots of common Crataegus monogyna.......one year whips from $30.00; larger trees as available. Shipping charges (by UPS Ground) will depend on individual tree size and zone. Please call for further details ........ Our foundation propagating wood came by circuitous route from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. - whose grounds are graced by a fine specimen. We are privileged to be able to make this rare tree a possibility for your own landscape."

While the Daily Mail article is overwrought (typical for a Murdock paper) the picture seems to show the trunk intact to to where it was branching which might mean (the actual wounds aren't visible) there are stumps of the former branches left which would facilitate grafting. Depending on the species, adventitious budding will often occur when the possibility of terminal budding is precluded. As long as the budding occurs above the initial graft line (I assume the tree is a grafted specimen), it will be the same tree.

The distribution would seem to make a Middle Eastern origin possible but how that was verified (DNA?) isn't stated in the article. Otherwise, given that commerce has existed over most of the present range for over two millennia, who knows?

I'm guessing beer was involved. The book should be thrown.

Why is a woman the director of the Glastonbury Abbey?

Abbey is a gender-neutral noun. It can thus refer to a monastery inhabited by either monks or nuns. One might be familiar with the term Abess: a woman religious charged with administering an abbey occupied by other women religious.

Of course, I have no clue if that's really an abbey anymore or not.

So, some needed clarification from someone who's traveled in Somerset and to Glastonbury:

It's not active as a monastery -- it's now an historic site. Think the Alamo (no longer a fort) or Versailles (no longer the king's house) and you'll get the idea. (The monastic houses were dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s.) Here's the address of the abbey's website: www.glastonburyabbey.com

There are several well-established holy thorn trees, all taken from the original, around Glastonbury, but the one damaged is considered the best and most famous one -- and in the position on the hill where legend holds it was planted by Jesus's great uncle Joe and then hacked down by Cromwell's minions. (The locals then hid or maintained the roots and thus kept the tradition in place.)

There is one on the grounds of the local parish church (St. John's) and there is (at least) one on the grounds of the Abbey ruins between the visitor's center and the chapel.

Here in the US, there's a celebrated one in the Bishop's Garden of the National Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul) on Mount St. Alban in Washington, DC.

An informal Glastonbury Holy Thorn team was set up following a meeting hosted by Glastonbury Abbey on Friday 10 December, where representatives from the local community, Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre, Glastonbury Conservation Society, Glastonbury Town Council, the local police, St John’s Church and Glastonbury Abbey have worked together to:

a) Agree to work together to keep everyone in touch with what is happening and co-ordinate activities to avoid duplication
b) Ensure everyone has a chance to have their say in what should happen to the Holy Thorn and its branches.

You can choose how you want to have your say and send in your suggestions:

Facebook: Search for the Official Page for the Glastonbury Holy Thorn

By email: You can send your suggestions and comment by email to: holythorn@glastonburyabbey.com

You can also read news updates from Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre at www.glastonbury-pilgrim.co.uk and find answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

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