The Glastonbury Thorn Its Legend

Even the vegetable world contributed to the wonders of Christmas, for

was there not the famous Glastonbury Thorn which blossomed on old

Christmas day? Legend says that this was the walking staff of Joseph

of Arimathaea, who, after Christ's death, came over to England and

settled at Glastonbury, where, having planted his staff in the ground,

it put forth leaves, and miraculously flowered on the festival of the

and it is a matter of popular belief, not always followed

out by practice, that it does so to this day. The fact is that this

thorn, the Crataegus praecox, will, in a mild and suitable season,

blossom before Christmas. It is not a particularly rare plant. Aubrey

thus speaks of it in his Natural History of Wiltshire.

Mr. Anthony Hinton, one of the Officers of the Earle of Pembroke, did

inoculate, not long before the late civill warres (ten yeares or

more), a bud of Glastonbury Thorne, on a thorne, at his farm house, at

Wilton, which blossoms at Christmas, as the other did. My mother has

had branches of them for a flower-pott, several Christmasses, which I

have seen. Elias Ashmole, Esq., in his notes upon Theatrum Chymicum,

saies that in the churchyard of Glastonbury grew a walnutt tree that

did putt out young leaves at Christmas, as doth the King's Oake in the

New Forest. In Parham Park, in Suffolk (Mr. Boutele's), is a pretty

ancient thorne, that blossomes like that at Glastonbury; the people

flock hither to see it on Christmas Day. But in the rode that leades

from Worcester to Droitwiche is a black thorne hedge at Clayes, half

a mile long or more, that blossoms about Christmas day, for a week or

more together. Dr. Ezerel Tong sayd that about Rumly-Marsh, in Kent,

are thornes naturally like that near Glastonbury. The Soldiers did

cutt downe that near Glastonbury; the stump remaines.

Several trees which are descended by cuttings from the Holy Thorn

still exist in and about Glastonbury. One of them, of somewhat scanty

and straggling growth, occupies the site of the original thorn, on the

summit of Weary-all Hill. Another, a much finer tree, compact and

healthy, stands on private premises, near the entrance of a house that

faces the abbot's kitchen. These descendants of the Holy Thorn inherit

the famous peculiarity of that tree.

The Gentleman's Magazine for 1753, has the following in its

Historical Chronicle for January. Quainton in Buckinghamshire,

Dec. 24. Above 2000 people came here this night, with lanthorns and

candles, to view a black thorn which grows in the neighbourhood, and

which was remembered (this year only) to be a slip from the famous

Glastonbury Thorn, that it always budded on the 24th, was full blown

the next day, and went all off at night; but the people, finding no

appearance of a bud, 'twas agreed by all that Decemb. 25, N.S., could

not be the right Christmas Day,[50] and, accordingly, refused going

to Church, and treating their friends on that day, as usual: at length

the affair became so serious that the ministers of the neighbouring

villages, in order to appease the people, thought it prudent to give

notice that the old Christmas Day should be kept holy as before.

Glastonbury. A vast concourse of people attended the noted thorns

on Christmas Eve, New Stile; but, to their great disappointment,

there was no appearance of its blowing, which made them watch it

narrowly the 5th of Jan., the Christmas-day, Old Stile, when it

blow'd as usual.

A writer in Notes and Queries (3 series ix. 33) says, A friend of

mine met a girl on Old Christmas Day, in a village of North Somerset,

who told him that she was going to see the Christmas Thorn in

blossom. He accompanied her to an orchard, where he found a tree,

propagated from the celebrated Glastonbury Thorn, and gathered from it

several sprigs in blossom. Afterwards, the girl's mother informed him

that it had, formerly, been the custom for the youth of both sexes to

assemble under the tree at midnight, on Christmas Eve, in order to

hear the bursting of the buds into flower; and, she added, 'As they

com'd out, you could hear 'em haffer.'[51]

This celebration of Christ-tide was not confined to this thorn--some

oaks put forth leaves on Christmas day. Aubrey says that an oak in the

New Forest putteth forth young leaves on Christmas-day, for about a

week at that time of the yeare. Old Mr. Hastings, of Woodlands, was

wont to send a basket full of them to King Charles I. I have seen of

them several Christmasses brought to my father. But Mr. Perkins, who

lives in the New Forest, sayes that there are two other oakes besides

that, which breed green buddes after Christmas day (pollards also),

but not constantly.

There is yet another bit of Folk-lore anent flowers and Christ-tide

which may be found in The Connoisseur, No. 56, Feb. 20, 1755. Our

maid, Betty, tells me that, if I go backwards, without speaking a

word, into the garden, upon Midsummer Eve, and gather a Rose, and keep

it in a clean sheet of paper, without looking at it, 'till Christmas

day, it will be as fresh as in June; and, if I then stick it in my

bosom, he that is to be my husband will come and take it out.

It is perhaps as well to know what will happen to us if the Feast of

the Nativity falls on a particular day in the week--as, according to

the proverb, forewarned is fore armed.

Nowe takethe heed, euery man,

That englisshe vnderstonde can,

If that Crystmasse day falle

Vpon Sonday, wittethe weel alle,

That wynter saysoun shal been esy,

Save gret wyndes on lofft shal flye.

The somer affter al-so bee drye,

And right saysounable, I seye.

Beestis and sheepe shal threue right weel,

But other vytayle shal fayle, mooste deel.[52]

* * * * *

Be kynde shal, with-outen lees,

Alle landes thanne shal haue pees.

But offt-tymes, for synne that is doone,

Grace is wyth-drawen from many oone

And goode tyme alle thinges for to do;

But who-so feelethe, is sone for-do.

What chylde that day is borne,

Gret and ryche he shal be of Corne.

If Cristmasse day on Monday bee,

Gret wynter that yeer shal ghee see,

And ful of wynde lowde and scille;[53]

But the somer, truwly to telle,

Shal bee sterne with wynde also,

Ful of tempeste eeke ther-too;

And vitayles shal soo multeplye,

And gret moryne of bestes shal hye.

They that bee borne, with-outen weene,

Shoulle be strong men and kene.

If Crystmasse day on Tuysday be,

Wymmen shal dye gret plentee.

That wynter shal shewe gret merveylle

Shippes shal bee in gret parayle;

That yeer shal kynges and lordes bee sleyne,

In lande, of werre gret woone,[54] certayne.

A drye somer shal be that yeere;

Alle that been borne that day in-feere,

They been stronge and coveytous,

But theyre ende shal be petous;[55]

They shal dye with swerd or knyff.

If thou stele ought, hit leesethe thy lyfe;

But if thou falle seeke, certayne,

Thou shalt tourne to lyf ageyne.

If that the Cristmasse day

Falle vpon a Weddensday,

That yeere shal be hardee and strong,

And many huge wyndes amonge.

The somer goode and mury shal be,

And that yeere shal be plentee.

Yonge folkes shal dye alsoo;

Shippes in the see, tempest and woo.

What chylde that day is borne is his

Fortune to be doughty and wys,

Discrete al-so and sleeghe of deede,

To fynde feel[56] folkes mete and weede.[57]

If Cristmasse day on therusday bee,

A wonder wynter yee shoule see,

Of wyndes, and of weders wicke,[58]

Tempestes eeke many and thicke.

The somer shal bee strong and drye,

Corne and beestes shal multeplye,

Ther as the lande is goode of tilthe;

But kynges and lordes shal dye by filthe

What chylde that day eborne bee,

He shal no dowte Right weel ethee,[59]

Of deedes that been good and stable.

Of speeche ful wyse and Raysonable.

Who-so that day bee thefft aboute,

He shall bee shent,[60] with-outen doute;

But if seeknesse that day thee felle,

Hit may not long with thee dwelle.

If Cristmasse day on fryday be,

The frost of wynter harde shal be,

The frost, snowe and the floode;

But at the eende hit shal bee goode.

The somer goode and feyre alsoo,

Folke in eerthe shal haue gret woo.

Wymmen with chylde, beestes and corne,

Shal multeplye, and noon be lorne.[61]

The children that been borne that day,

Shoule longe lyve, and lechcherous ay.

If Cristmasse day on saturday falle,

That wynter wee most dreeden alle.

Hit shal bee ful of foule tempest,

That hit shal slee bothe man and beest.

Fruytes and corne shal fayle, gret woone,

And eelde folk dye many oon.

What woman that of chylde travayle,

They shoule bee boothe in gret parayle.

And children that been borne that day,

With June half yeere shal dy, no nay.

The Shepherd's Kalendar says: If the sun shines clear and bright on

Christmas day, it promises a peaceful year, free from clamours and

strife, and foretells much plenty to ensue; but if the wind blows

stormy towards sunset, it betokens sickness in the spring and autumn


Another authority, Husband-man's Practice, warns us that when

Christmas day cometh while the moon waxeth, it shall be a very good

year, and the nearer it cometh to the new moon, the better shall that

year be. If it cometh when the moon decreaseth, it shall be a hard

year, and the nearer the latter end thereof it cometh, the worse and

harder shall the year be.

The same book says: The wise and cunning masters in Astrology have

found that men may see and mark the weather of the holy Christmas

night, how the whole year after shall be in his working and doing, and

they shall speak on this wise:

When on the Christmas night and evening it is very fair and clear

weather, and is without wind and rain, then it is a token that this

year will be plenty of wine and fruite.

But if the contrariwise, foul weather and windy, so shall it be very

scant of wine and fruite.

But if the wind arise at the rising of the sun, then it betokeneth

great dearth among beasts and cattle this year.

But if the wind arise at the going down of the same, then it

signifieth death to come among kings and other great lords.