By GEOFFREY HUMPHRYS
ONE of the many legends concerning Christmastide is connected with the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury. This remarkable tree of ancient origin has for many centuries provided a perennial miracle. in that contrary to normal seasonal growth " it blossoms at Christmas. mindful of Our Lord ".
Many Somerset people .believe that Our Lord actually visited Britain as a boy, accompanying Joseph of Arimathea, who took an active part in the tin trade and often visited the tin mines of Somerset and Cornwall.
' On one of these visits Joseph landed at Glastonbury Tor in A.D. 37. He had journeyed from Palestine, where prior to embarking it is said that he cut a handstall from the tree used by the. Roman soldiers to make the mocking crown of thorns they placed on Our Lord's head.
This staff is the origin of the Holy '1 horn legend, for upon landing • Joseph of Arimathea climbed up a grassy hill at Glastonbury. Fatigued by the long sea journey he called a halt. sank his staff into the soft earth and murmured to his companions, " We are weary all." The common belief is that he left the staff in the earth to grow and become a symbol of the sacrifice of Our Blessed Lord. The staff evidently took root and front it burgeoned the Holy Thorn. Today the hill which lies in the shadow of Glastonhury Tor is known as Wearyall Hill in memory of this occasion.
THE Holy Thorn, however, has had a long and chequered history. The first written evidence of its power to produce blossom at hristmas occurs in a letter written in 1535 by Dr. Layton. He was sent to investigate the phenomenon by Thomas Cromwell, chief adviser to Henry VIM The tree by this time had grown two trunks and was always watched most closely at Christmas. As a result, a superstition gained credence in Somerset warning against "cutting the Holy Thorn on Christmas Eve when you hear the buds cracking. or you %sill receive a curse."
It is said that the efficacy of the curse was tested during Oliver Crorrivreles reign of power. when he tried so hard to abolish the celebration of Christmas. A Puritan soldier is supposed to have tried to destroy the Holy Thorn.
Stories vary as to the outcome, but he did separate one of the
trunks from the main body of the tree. One story states that the soldier was then pricked by a thorn and quickly died of poison.
WHATEVER the fate of this unhappy vandal one trunk was left only attached to the other by a strip of hark. It lay on the ground in this position for several years, but still produced its blossom at Christmas. The remaining trunk continued to flourish. even though the hark was deeply cut into all over with the carved names and initials of visitors. The fame of the tree had now spread all over the world. tend Bristol merchants shipped cuttings to many different countries. Fearful of attempts to destroy the remarkable tree, faithful believers in the Joseph of Arimathea legend had planted many cuttings in secret places. Naturally several were planted in Glastonbury. but they also went further afield in Britain. There were specimens reare at Orcop and Kingsthorne •refordshire, and Quainton in Buckinghamshire. The Orcop thorn is still the scene of Twelfth Night revelry. when watch is kept with torches and lanterns on the night of Old Christmas Eve, January 5. the day many think to he the correct date for the Holy Thorn to blossom.
HIS discrepancy of dales has
caused considerable controversy since the introduction of the new calendar. In 1753 it started a riot. ' Great indignation was caused by the change in the calendar, so 2.000 people at Quainton, spent the night of December 24 with lanterns and candles. waiting to see if their Holy Thorn produced any blossom. When dawn broke on the following morning nothing had appeared. The large crowd now gathered about the tree unanimously agreed that December 25 could not he the right Christmas Day. They became so violent that the only way the ministers could appease them. was, by announcing that the Old Christmas Day should be observed as holy as before. The original Holy Thorn tree was finally destroyed during a rebellion in Charles II's time, but sufficient trees reared from cutting. existed in Glastonhury to ensure the confirmation of the legend. Fine examples flourished in the grounds of Glastonhury Abbey and St. John's churchyard. It is interesting to note that the successfully reared cuttings of the Holy Thorn have resulted in trees which produce blossom at Christmas. Attempts to raise the trees front seed, however. have always resulted in a reversion to the normal hawthorn type producing blossom in spring and not in winter. In 1951, to celebrate the Festival of Britain. a cutting from one of the Glastonbury Holy Thorn trees was planted with great ceremony in the original spot on Wearyall Hill. It is now quite a sturdy little tree. and we hope to hear that blossoms appeared at Christmas this year to keep us "mindful of Our Lord."