The Holy Thorn of Glastonbury

An oak cross stands on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. The cross, a gift of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, was dedicated on February 26, 1965. the plaque on the cross reads: "The cross, the symbol of our faith, the gift of Queen Elizabeth II, marks a Christian sanctuary so ancient that only legend can record its origin."

Persistent among the legends of England is that of the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury. Tradition has it that the merchant Joseph of Arimathea, the man who took charge of Jesus' body after the Crucifixion, purchased tin and other metals from the people in and around Somerset. The somerset tradition surrounding Joseph, believed to be an uncle of the Virgin Mary, is that on one or more occasion the boy Jesus traveled with his mother's uncle to the Isle of Avalon to buy tin.

Soon after the Crucifixion, St. James, Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, sent Joseph of Arimathea and twelve companions to Glastonbury to preach the Gospel. Landing on Wearyall Hill, Joseph stuck his walking staff into the ground and claimed the land for Jesus. The staff took root and began to grow. (This is no uncommon as with willow trees in this country.) The Thorn of Glastonbury has been identified as Crataegus oxycantha praecox or Crataegus monogyna which is native to the Holy Land and not England. It flowers at Christmas time as well as in the Spring. Each Christmas a sprig of blossoms is ceremonially cut and sent to the reigning monarch of England. There are accounts of attempts to destroy the tree - In 1539, Thomas Cromwell sent his commissioners to Somerset. They destroyed the abbey and when a soldier tried to lay an ax to the Thorn he struck his leg instead. During the reign of Elizabeth I, a Puritan tried to chop it down and a flying thorn blinded him in one eye.

Today there are other Thorns at the Abbey which are cuttings from one on Wearyall Hill, one at St. Patrick's Chapel on the Abbey grounds, one at St. John's parish church in Glastonbury, and one by the Chalice Well. In America, one is on Mt. St. Alban in Washington, D.C., and St. Alban's in the Ozarks has pictures, gifts from Clayton and Ruth Cramer, of one at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, Burien, Washington, one at St. George's Episcopal Church, Englewood, Colorado. St. Alban's in the Ozarks and Fr. John each have a thorn as a gift from the Abbey nursery at Glastonbury.

The Glastonbury Thorn is one of the most famous and best loved trees in England. For some it is merely a tourist attraction, a freak of nature that has been used to intrigue visitors. To others it is a powerful symbol that encompasses both the Christian and mythical aspects of Glastonbury. for those who believe that it did indeed sprout from Joseph of Arimathea's staff it is a very real link through the centuries to Jesus Christ. Whichever one of the theories appeals most, to see it blossom in the bleak midwinter is to see a part of the enigma of Glastonbury.

To some who visit, Glastonbury Abbey may appear little more than a pile of stones. But these ruins are so much more than that, representing, as they do, the very foundations of Christianity in England. Because Glastonbury's ruins lie on the site of Britain's first Christian church, many regard the abbey as a holy place.

(The text is based on an original text by C. A. Ralegh)