Tears and anger as iconic tree cut down by vandals


THE SOMERSET town of Glastonbury last night held vigils around three holy trees after vandals cut down a hawthorn tree that Christians believe was brought to the town by Joseph of Arimathea 2000 years ago.

Early risers yesterday came upon the six-foot stump of the tree, known as the Holy Thorn, and some were in tears. A fund was set up last night to “name and shame” those responsible for destroying the tree – a sprig from which is sent to Queen Elizabeth every year to adorn the Christmas Day table in Buckingham Palace.

Christian legend says Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’s great-uncle, came to Britain after the Crucifixion bearing the Holy Grail – the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. During a visit to Glastonbury, he is said to have thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, planting a seed for the original thorn tree.

During the English civil war, Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads felled the tree, but Catholics salvaged its roots and hid them. Cuttings from the original were then replanted in 1951, while others were planted around the town, including one on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.

Hawthorns usually flower only once in the spring, but this particular tree flowers twice, at Christmas and around Easter, which has led Christians down the centuries to send petals from it all over the world. The tradition of sending a Christmas sprig to the queen was begun by the bishop of Bath and Wells, James Montague, during the reign of King James I.

The town’s mayor, John Coles, said locals were “very saddened” by the attack. “I’m sure more people will come forward with more money to try and name and shame them. We hope it will loosen tongues in the area.” Local rector Rev David MacGeoch said he had told parishioners to be very vigilant to prevent attacks on the remaining trees.

Glastonbury Abbey’s director, Katherine Gorbing, said the Holy Thorn was of “exceptional spiritual significance” and was visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. Experts have confirmed that the fallen tree did originate in the Middle East, though it was not first mentioned in print until the 16th century.