UK’s Holy Thorn Tree chopped to a stump
It was linked to early Christianity
LONDON — The rare thorn tree had ties to the early days of Christianity, and pilgrims often left offerings at its base. Local children honored it each year by cutting sprigs to place on Queen Elizabeth II’s Christmas dining table.
Now British police want to know who sawed off the historic limbs of the Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree, reducing it to a stump. And they want to know why.
“I’ve just driven past the site, and people are coming out in tears,’’ said Mayor John Coles of Glastonbury. “I’ve never seen a sadder sight, or a more serious act of vandalism, in my 60 years in Glastonbury.’’
Glastonbury, 125 miles west of London, is best known for its annual rock music festival that has drawn artists such as Bruce Springsteen since the 1960s. Its mysterious landscape — including the Glastonbury Tor hill, which is believed by some to have magical qualities — has drawn pagan worshipers to the area for many years.
Katherine Gorbing, the director of Glastonbury Abbey, said the tree originally came from the Middle East. It typically lives about 100 years, but locals have kept it going by taking grafts and clippings to plant new ones.
“It’s a sacred tree,’’ Gorbing said. “Not only for the Christian church, but for many other people.’’
Coles said the nighttime attack came between Wednesday and Thursday shortly after he, the local vicar, and schoolchildren participated in the annual sprig cutting for the queen’s Christmas table.
Avon and Somerset police would not comment on the motive. No arrests have been made.
The once-proud tree provides Glastonbury believers with a significant link to the early days of Christianity in England.
Religious tradition holds that the original tree was planted by St. Joseph of Arimathea — the wealthy merchant who volunteered his prepared tomb to Jesus — after he first made landfall in England some 2,000 years ago. The chopped-down tree is thought to be descended from the original.
“The story goes that Joseph of Arimathea pushed his staff into the ground and pronounced it to be weary — that’s why it’s known as Wearyall Hill,’’ said Coles. “The tree is said to have grown from the staff. It’s something you can’t prove or disprove.’’
Some people believe the growth of the wooden staff into the tree was a full-fledged miracle, while others believe it was left standing in a boggy area for months and eventually sprouted, said Susan Strong, an education officer at Glastonbury Abbey.
Local historians said the tree has been chopped down at least once before — by a soldier using an ax during the 1642-51 English Civil Wars.
Experts say the tree could recover in about 10 years if it had been in good health.
Even with that hope, Gorbing called the loss of the tree devastating. “It’s a symbol worldwide. Local people do see this as an attack on Glastonbury.’’