Glastonbury Thorn

(Crataegus monogyna 'Praecox'). The legend of the Glastonbury Thorn is well-known. Joseph of Arimathea, on his way to Glastonbury, arrived at Weary-all Hill, to the south of the town, and rested there, having pushed his staff into the ground. The stick took root, and blossomed each year on the anniversary of the birth of Christ (old style, i.e., 6 January, and not 25 December). The difficulty with this is the fact that the legend is of late origin. The first testimony was in a poem called 'The Lyfe of Joseph of Arimathea', apparently written in 1502, though not published until 1520:

Three hawthornes also that groweth in Wirral

Do burge and bear greene leaves at Christmas

As fresh as other in May.

The legend was complete by the early eighteenth century, but it was an innkeeper who first launched the "Weary-all Hill" story (Loomis), and the connection between Joseph's staff and the tree was not established till the early eighteenth century intervention.

Plants grown from the haws of the Glastonbury Thorn do not retain the characteristics of the parents, and the only way of propagating it is by grafting or budding on to other roots, so that must have been achieved as far as the original tree is concerned, and offshoots of the original tree were grown in many gardens in Somerset and also in Herefordshire. Howells, in 1831, wrote of a Christmas blooming hawthorn in a garden at Aberglasney, in Carmarthenshire, modern Dyfed. Apparently the tree was common in Palestine, where it bloomed at the same time as it does here (Williamson), i.e., twice, once in the winter, and again in the spring (hence the alternative specific name, biflora). The winter flowers produce no fruit, though the spring ones do.

If a piece of the Holy Thorn were gathered at the Christmas blooming and kept in the house for the rest of the year, it would act as protector from misfortune, but it was also believed that picking the buds or flowers brought very bad luck. Then again, flowers from the thorn were brought in procession in Charles 11's time, on Christmas morning, and presented to the king and queen (Hadfield), and these days Glastonbury parish church is decorated with the flowers at Epiphany (Lawrence). There may be confusion as to the result of picking the flowers, but all sources agree that it is very unlucky to cut down or damage the tree, and there are many stories of the fate of people misguided enough to chop it down.

The Cadnam OAK, a "boundary tree" of the New Forest, according to popular belief, became green on

Old Christmas Day, being leafless before and after the day (Bett. 1952). This oak, or rather its descendant, still bears leaves round about the 6 January, though it buds at the normal time as well (Hampshire FWI). One sometimes finds BLACKTHORN cast in the same part, blooming, so it was believed, at midnight on old Christmas Eve (M Baker. 1980).

Other plants had a similar reputation. ROSEMARY, for instance, was thought to bloom exactly at midnight in the eve of Twelfth Day - Old Christmas Eve, that is (Dew). SWEET CICELY (Myrrhis odorata) is another, according to belief in the Isle of Man, where it is called Myrrh (Moore), which must be the original for this belief. A watch is still sometimes kept for the flowering (Garrad). According to tradition, the bloom only lasts for an hour.

Glechoma hederacea > GROUND IVY

Gleditsia triacanthos > HONEY LOCUST

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