The Story of the Glastonbury Thorn: The Recent Chapters
Every winter, just before the end of term, the pupils of St. John’s School gather round the Glastonbury Thorn that stands in the churchyard and sing carols, including one especially written for the occasion. The oldest pupil has the privilege of cutting a sprig of the Thorn which is then taken to London and presented to the Queen, where it resides on her Christmas Day breakfast table. The presenting of the Thorn to the reigning monarch maintains an old tradition initiated by James Montague, bishop of Bath and Wells, when he sent a branch to Queen Anne, consort of James I (1566 – 1625).
In 1951 a direct descendant of the original was planted on the top of Wearyall Hill to commemorate the Festival of Britain. However, it didn’t take and was quietly replaced at the stroke of midnight as the year turned to 1952.
This tree became the iconic Glastonbury Holy Thorn of recent times. However, it was vandalised with a chain saw during the night on 8th December 2010 and reduced to nothing but a stump. Shock waves rippled around the world at the attack and Glastonbury Abbey was asked to safeguard the branches on behalf of the community.
Conflicting advice was being given as to whether or not it was the right time of year for cuttings to be taken. When Tony Kirkham, Head of the Arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew offered his expertise, Morgana West, manager at Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre took the opportunity to consult one of the world’s leading experts on trees.
Despite the severe snow and hazardous road conditions, Tony and his Head of Nursery, Tony Hall, travelled from London on a flying visit to Glastonbury. They returned to Kew with several scions and grafted them onto hawthorn rootstock so that new Glastonbury Thorns could be grown from the severed branches on behalf of the community.
On the 1st April 2012, working with Glastonbury Conservation Society, the landowners of Wearyall Hill planted a new Glastonbury Thorn close to the vicinity of the old one. The sapling was not one of the young ones being nurtured at Kew and came from a nursery in Devon, their parent tree having come from Glastonbury Abbey via Oxford Botanic Garden.
Revd. David McGeoch, Vicar of Glastonbury, gave a blessing, linking the young tree to its past and thus creating a new Holy Thorn. However, fifteen days later, this one too was destroyed, the stem has being snapped off about 18 inches from the ground.
Following this second attack, a message from Morgana rippled worldwide via the media stating;
“Mindless at it seems, they can never damage the ‘Glastonbury Thorn’. More than just a tree, it is a symbol of the good things in our community and in the wider world around us. Whilst there are those who might ‘hack away’, they can never destroy what is in peoples’ hearts and hopes.”
In January of 2013, Morgana, Cllr. Bill Knight, John Capper and Dharam Barratt travelled to London to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Their mission to collect one of the saplings, a descendant of the Wearall Hill Thorn so that it might be planted in the town.
The young sapling was brought back to Glastonbury, ready for planting in the heart of the town alongside a World Peace Pole in a community event on 26th January 2013. Morgana felt that by placing one alongside a new Glastonbury Thorn, a strong message of Peace and Unity through Diversity would be conveyed to the town and its visitors.
"More than 70 faiths and beliefs are upheld in Glastonbury, a greater concentration per capita than anywhere else in the world. Following the success of our event ‘Glastonbury 2012: Unity through Diversity' where many representatives of our diverse community gathered together in celebration, Glastonbury is now being given the opportunity to send this message out into the world. The Glastonbury Thorn is an internationally significant tree to many people and the event, which will be attended by our diverse community, offers a simple but key message showing that the branches of the Glastonbury Thorn all grow from one stem. The message of Unity through Diversity recognises that whilst we might all be different and go in our own direction, we are all part of the same source, stretching towards the same sky with our roots in the same earth." - Morgana West
Sadly though, on the 14th June 2013 it was discovered that this tree had also been vandalised, being part cut then snapped off.
A second Glastonbury Thorn, a descendant from the Devonshire nursery and planted in the same area 18 months earlier by Cllr. Bill Knight also suddenly and suspiciously died, despite having looked splendid a couple of weeks earlier.
But the story still continues, mature Glastonbury Thorns can be found in locations all around the town and young ones are being planted in private locations.
Places to Visit | Bride's Mound | Chalice Well & Gardens | The Church of St John the Baptist | Glastonbury Abbey | The Glastonbury Experience Courtyard | Glastonbury Goddess Temple | Glastonbury Thorn | Gog & Magog | Lake Village Museum | Library of Avalon | St. Margaret's Chapel & the Magdalene Almshouses | Somerset Rural Life Museum | Ponter's Ball | The Glastonbury Tercentennial Labyrinth | Glastonbury Tor | Wearyall Hill | White Spring |