LONDON – Legend has it that the rare thorn tree on a hill in southern England had ties to the earliest days of Christianity, and pilgrims often left offerings at its base. In more recent times, local children honored its current incarnation each year by cutting sprigs to place on Queen Elizabeth II’s Christmas dining table.
Now British police want to know who sawed the limbs off 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 Glastonbury Mayor John Coles. “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. Its mysterious landscape – including the Glastonbury Tor hill – has drawn pagan worshippers for many years.
Katherine Gorbing, the director of Glastonbury Abbey, said the tree is a type of thorn tree common in Lebanon as well as in Europe. It typically lives about 100 years, but Gorbing said locals have kept the Glastonbury tree going by taking grafts and clippings from it to plant new trees.
Religious tradition holds that the original tree was planted by St. Joseph of Arimathea after he first made landfall in England some 2,000 years ago. The chopped-down tree is thought to be descended from the original. It blooms twice a year – during the Christmas season and again around Easter.
Experts say the tree could recover in about 10 years if it was in good health at the time of the attack.