The Glastonbury Holy Thorn lives on...

PUBLISHED: 15:40 13 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:07 05 April 2013

The Glastonbury Holy Thorn lives on...

The Glastonbury Holy Thorn lives on...

Glastonbury has no shortage of ancient landmarks – and now one of its lesser-known, the Glastonbury Holy Thorn has been returned to its rightful place.

The Glastonbury Holy Thorn lives on...

Glastonbury has no shortage of ancient landmarks and now one of its lesser-known, the Glastonbury Holy Thorn has been returned to its rightful place.

The new tree has been grown from the severed branches of the iconic thorn that once stood on Wearyall Hill and is said to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, uncle of Jesus, more than 2,000 years ago when he came to Britain following the crucifixion. Josephs story is now the subject of a major Hollywood film - Glastonbury: Isle of Light, due for release in 2013.

In 2010 the tree was brutally vandalised and reduced to a stump in the early hours of a December morning. The Pilgrim Reception Centre, set up in 2008 as an organisation to support all faiths and beliefs, arranged with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew to collect cuttings from the severed branches. These were grafted onto common hawthorn rootstock and nurtured at Kew so that new trees could continue the lineage.

The Glastonbury thorn is one of our iconic trees in the British Isles, with legends relating to the arrival of Christianity and traditions of sending flowering sprigs to the Queen on Christmas day and Easter, says Tony Kirkham, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. With the new tree planted back in Glastonbury along with several others in different locations, we hope that the Glastonbury story will continue for the monarchy and many others to enjoy.

Alongside the tree, a Peace Pole has also been erected displaying the message May Peace Prevail On Earth in different languages on each side. The poles are now recognised as the most prominent international symbol and monument to peace.

The Glastonbury Thorn World Tree and the Peace Pole were planted at the end of January close to Glastonbury Abbey. The planting ceremony was organised by the Pilgrim Reception Centre, in front of an invited audience of more than 200.

The eyes of the world are soon to be on Somerset, with the film development Glastonbury: Isle of Light focusing on, in particular Glastonbury and to have this important part of our counties heritage reinstated will be of huge comfort I am sure for all spiritual and religious beliefs and will hopefully attract a great deal of positive and constructive interest in the coming months, says John Turner, vice chairman of Visit Somerset.

Glastonbury reached its peak as a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages with the needs of pilgrims being met by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey. Today, there has been a huge resurgence of interest by spiritual seekers. However, instead of a centre of Christian pilgrimage, Glastonbury has now fully emerged as a place that recognises and honours all faiths, beliefs and paths.

Legend tells us that following the crucifixion of Christ, his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, arrived at Glastonbury with twelve companions. Tired and weary, Joseph thrust his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill, where it took root and flourished. During the time of the English Civil War, between 1642 and 1651, the Thorn that stood on the hill at the time was cut down by one of Cromwells soldiers on the grounds that it was a relic of superstition. It is said that as it fell, its thorns blinded the axe man in one eye.

A sprig of the winter blossom is traditionally cut from the Thorn in St. Johns churchyard and sent to the reigning monarch, maintaining the continuation of 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 thorn is a variety known as Crataegus monogyna var, biflora, (or Crataegus oxyacantha praecox) usually seen in the Middle East. It is unusual in that it flowers twice a year, in spring and again in winter, when the fruits of the spring blossoms are still on the tree. The average life span of the tree is approximately 100 years and this particular one, a direct descendant of the original, was planted on Wearyall Hill in 1952.

Other descendants of the tree can also be found in St. Johns churchyard, the Abbey, the gardens of Chalice Well, the grounds of the Abbey Barn (Rural Life Museum) and in private gardens around the town. 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.

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