The Glastonbury Thorn

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Under development

The Legend

The story of the Glastonbury Thorn begins with the legend of Joseph of Arimathea, uncle to Jesus, arriving in Glastonbury, a peninsula island surrounded by an inland sea and connected only to the rest of England by a tiny strip of land to the East. The Mendip Hills, surrounding the island were rich with tin and Joseph, a wealthy tin merchant is said to have visited the area many times; the stories also hinting that he brought the boy Jesus with him. Following the crucifixion, Joseph is said to have come to live at Glastonbury, accompanied by twelve companions. The first references to this are attributed to Rabinus Maurus (AD766 – 856) and that the companions 'included Mary, mother of Jesus, her sister Martha and Mary Magdalene.[1]. Tired and weary, Joseph thrust his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill, where it took root and flourished.'

winter flowers and summer haws


Contrary to popular media portrayal, in that the same Thorn has always stood on the hill, there have been ongoing plantings of the Glastonbury Thorn down the centuries, not only on Wearyall Hill but all over the town. The thorn is a variety known as Crataegus monogyna biflora usually seen in the Middle East and unusual in that it flowers twice a year, in spring and again in winter, when the fruits of the spring blossoms are still the tree. The average life span of the tree is approximately 100 years but some have survived for several centuries. Many have tried to grow the Glastonbury Thorn from seed and direct cuttings, but it can only be grown by being grafted onto the common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.

Chopped Down as a Relic of Superstition

C.E. 642 – 1651, saw the time of the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I, the replacement of the monarchy with the Commonwealth of England (1649–53), followed by a Protectorate (1653–59) under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell.

Ordered to be cut down by one of Cromwell’s soldiers on the grounds that it was a relic of superstition, we are told that as it fell, its thorns blinded the axe man in one eye. However, as with all good stories, it did not end there and local people protected and cultivated the tree in secret until such a time when a new chapter for the Holy Thorn could begin.

Charles Eyston ( 1667 - 1721) an English antiquary writes: 'My curiosity having led me twice to Glastonbury within these two years, and inquiring there into the antiquity, history, and rarities of the place, I was told by the innkeeper where I set up my horses, who rents a considerable part of the enclosure of the late dissolved abbey, that St. Joseph of Aramathea landed not far from the town, at a place where there was an oak planted in memory of his landing, called the Oak of Avalon; that he and his companions marched thence to a hill near a mile on the south side of the town, and there being weary, rested themselves; which gave the hill the name of Weary-all-Hill; that St. Joseph stuck on the hill his staff, being a dry hawthorn-stick, which grew, and constantly budded and blowed upon Christmas-day; but, in the time of the Civil Wars, that thorn was grubbed up. However, there were, in the town and neighbourhood, several trees raised from that thorn, which yearly budded and blowed upon Christmas-day, as the old root did'.

Calendar Reform in England, 1753

The belief that the Glastonbury Thorn blossomed on Christmas Day created consternation when in 1753, the British Calendar was altered to bring Britain into line with Europe and eleven days were dropped from the month of September. In distant Yorkshire, and elderly eccentric John Jackson was inspired to make the epic journey, through the mud of an eighteenth-century English winter, to observe which dates the Thorn would observe. [2].

‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ a publication of that time, reported: “A vast concourse of people attended the noted thorn on Christmas-day, new style; but, to their great disappointment, there was no appearance of its blowing, which made them watch it narrowly the 5th of January, the Christmas-day, old style, when it blowed as usual." [3].

Royal Tradition

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 sent 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).

The 1952 - 2010 Thorn on Wearyall Hill

The Glastonbury Thorn in the 20th and 21st Centuries

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.

Destroyed in 2010

The story of the Glastonbury Thorn has outlived any human and long may the pages in the history books continue to be written. It has survived the ravages of time, destroyers, war and violence and is much more than a simple tree that oftentimes struggles to survive.

The Glastonbury Thorn is a symbol of the humanity that binds us together, like the branches that reach towards the light. It is the hope in our hearts that keeps us going through the dark times and it is the actions we ourselves can undertake to grow a better future, not just for us mere mortals that have such a short life-span on this earth, but for the whole of our planet and for all those yet to come. Morgana West June 2013

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.

During severe snow and hazardous road conditions, Tony and his Head of Nursery, Tony Hall, travelled from London on a flying visit to Glastonbury and 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.

Glastonbury Thorns Around the Town

The Glastonbury Tribunal
In 1784, topographical artist John Carter visited Glastonbury and drew (right) what he refers to as the Library, now known as The Tribunal and currently housing the Tourist Information Centre and the Lake Village Museum. In his notes, he makes mention of a Glastonbury Thorn as being in the garden to the rear.
Wearyall Hill
New Thorn planted on Wearyall Hill 2012
There was also at least one Victorian attempt to replant a Thorn on Wearyall Hill, in 1863, as part of Prince of Wales’ wedding celebrations. "At 10.30 a procession was formed in the Kitchen Grounds and at 11 the Mayor and Town Council arrived and took their appointed places in it. It passed through Magdalen-street, Market-place, High-street, Chilkwell, Bere-lane, to Weary-all-hill, where some ladies planted a thorn". [4].

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.

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. Morgana West 2.4.2010

Town Centre
In January of 2013, Morgana West, Cllr. William Knight, John Capper and Dharam Barratt travelled to London to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Their mission to collect one of the saplings grown from the Wearall Hill Thorn to plant in the town alongside The Glastonbury Peace Pole at the Glastonbury Thorn Community Day held on 26th January 2013. On the 14th June 2013 it was discovered that this tree had also been destroyed. A Thorn planted by the Glastonbury Bench eighteen months earlier by Cllr. William Knight, also died suspiciously at the same time, despite looking healthy only two weeks earlier.
The Church of St John the Baptist
Information needed
Glastonbury Abbey
Information needed
Chalice Well Gardens
Information needed
The Abbey Barn
Information needed

External Links

Glastonbury Thorns further afield in the UK
Glastonbury Thorns around the world


  1. Life of Mary Magdalene by Rabanus Maurus (766-856 C.E.)
  2. Adam Stout, ‘The Thorn and the Waters, Miraculous Glastonbury in the 18th Century. 2005.
  3. Adam Stout, ‘The Thorn and the Waters, Miraculous Glastonbury in the 18th Century. 2005.
  4. The History of Glastonbury during the last 40 years. A lecture delivered at Glastonbury by G W Wright. The Avalon Independent – 1890