Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sacrilege in Glastonbury

The Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury -
in the distance, the great stone Tor of Glastonbury is just visible.

In England in Glastonbury there stands a tree that is known as The Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury. Legend has it that the tree sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the great uncle of Jesus who provided the burial tomb for Christ after he had been crucified, and the linen to shroud the body in. Legend continues that Joseph travelled to England after Christ was crucified, taking with him the Holy Grail of Arthurian folklore. He is said to have stuck his wooden staff – which had belonged to Jesus – into the ground on Wearyall Hill before he went to sleep. When he awoke it had sprouted into a thorn tree, which became a natural shrine for Christians across Europe. To add to its sacred status, the tree ‘miraculously’ flowered twice a year – once at Christmas and once at Easter. The flowers are smaller at Christmas, and do not produce"haws" or berries, like the spring flowers do. Also, trees planted from the seeds of the Tree do not carry that double bloom characteristic of the original, and they will only bloom once at spring. However, if the shoots or clippings from the original are grafted or rooted, they DO retain the ability to bloom in the winter and the spring.
It has been cut down, and replanted from shoots and roots of the original tree a number of times, most notably in the English Civil War by Roundheads led by Cromwell in the fight against the crown. Always it has been sustained from the original, replanted and nurtured back to full growth. Experts have verified that the tree - known as the Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora - originated from the Middle East, which is rather fascinating! The current incarnation of the Glastonbury Thorn tree grows on Wearyhill in Sommerset and you can see the great Glastonbury Tor from it's side.
Many people bring offerings, ribbons, and prayers to the site of the Tree, and hang them on the protective fence around the trunk of the tree.

Every winter a 1oo year old tradition takes place - a sprig of thorns is taken from the Tree and sent to the Queen to be used at the table as a holy decoration on Christmas day. Last night, on December the 8th, the Mayor took the clipping and sent it off to the Palace. This morning on December the 9th the people of Sommerset rose to find the Holy Thorn Tree almost destroyed - its branches cut from it and thrown on the ground and left there.

Many wept and all were stunned at the blatant destruction. There are rumors of town rivalries and ugliness as the basis of the vandalism, but no one has been caught or accused of the act. People have gathered to weep and mourn the destruction of the sacred tree, and some are gleaning tenderly branches from the scattered limbs - maybe in hopes that a new shoot might be grafted and encouraged from the remains.

Such a mindless act of wanton destruction is almost more than I can comprehend. I do not understand why someone or someones would do such a thing, and desecrate what is surely a Holy Shrine, made so by the prayers and customs and the very Earth it grew in. All I could think of was the song sung by Loreena McKennit - "Bonny Portmore. I wish to offer that song here now as a lament for the loss of the Holy Tree of Glastonbury.

It must be pointed out that however desperately horrifying this vandalism it, and how gut wrenching it is to see, the trunk still stands is possible that it will respond as though it was deeply pruned and grow back fuller and richer in time than it was...

And if not, there are shoots and small trees growing in Britain that spring from cuttings of the Tree. It can be replanted, still stemming from the original roots, and the flowers will blossom still then, twice a year - at Winter Solstice and at Ostara, or Christmas and Easter.

1 comment:

  1. Oh no!!!! What terrible vandalism and sacrilege! My Rare One and I hung our ribbons on the Holy Thorn's grating a couple of years ago. What a special experience it was to visit the tree on that high, windy hill. This news is so awful -- like hearing that an old friend has died in an accident. But you're right -- they can (in time) regenerate the tree from clippings from other Holy Thorns. There's another one at Glastonbury Abbey just a mile or so away. I wonder if this could have anything to do with the protests yesterday (about university funding or something?) that caused the mob to attack the Prince of Wales' car?