Sticking up out of the English countryside like a big geological lump stands Glastonbury Tor, a high, oblong hill that can be seen for miles. At one time, it was an island, but the sea has receded, leaving this strange geographical sight. It has been identified over the centuries as the mythical Isle of Avalon of King Arthur’s time. What makes Glastonbury such a startling sight today is the ruined entryway of the abbey’s tower that sits at the top of the knoll.
The source of the belief that that Glastonbury could be the location of the Holy Grail is in the legend of Joseph of Arimathea. Christians in Britain have long told the legend that Joseph came to the island shortly after Christ’s ascension, and that he and his fellow travelers founded the monastery at Glastonbury. The tale goes that he was accompanied by the Bethany sisters Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and others followers. A variation of the tale is that Joseph even brought the teenaged Jesus to Britain even before he began his ministry. Of course, much of this legend may have had more to do with claiming that Christianity was alive in Britain long before the Roman Catholic Church was established, as part of the British feud between Catholics and Protestants, than it did with history.
Today, the Daily Mail reports that vandals have destroyed a site of pilgrimage at Glastonbury, one of the most important Christian sites in Britain—a tree that legendarily sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, 2000 years ago:
The Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, Somerset, is visited by thousands every year to pay homage and leave tokens of worship. Those visiting today were moved to tears on finding the tree cut to a stump.
The sacred tree is unique in that it blossoms twice a year - at Christmas and Easter - and sprigs taken from the thorn are sent to The Queen each year for the festive table.
Christian legend dictates that Jesus's great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, came to Britain after the crucifixion 2,000 years ago bearing the Holy Grail - the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.
He visited Glastonbury and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, just below the Tor, planting a seed for the original thorn tree.
Roundheads felled the tree during the English Civil War, when forces led by Oliver Cromwell (pictured) waged a vicious battle against the Crown.
However, locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding it in secret locations around Glastonbury.
It was then replanted on the hill in 1951. Other cuttings were also grown and placed around the town - including its famous Glastonbury Abbey.
Experts had verified that the tree - known as the Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora - originated from the Middle East.
A sprig of holy thorns was taken from the Thorn tree by Glastonbury's St Johns Church on Wednesday and sent to the Queen.
The 100-year-old tradition will see the thorns sit on Her Majesty's dinner table on Christmas Day.
In 1190 A.D., after a fire that consumed the abbey at Glastonbury, two massive oak coffins were discovered buried below the ruins, with the inscription Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia (“Here lies King Arthur in the island of Avalon”). Since that time, many have believed that the remains really were King Arthur and his wife Guinevere.
As you might expect, there is a Holy Grail associated with Glastonbury. Known as the Nanteos Cup, it is a bowl, said to have been made of olive wood. For many years it was in the care of the Nanteos family, but is now in a museum in the Welsh village of Aberystwyth. True believers have drunk healing water from the cup over the centuries, some going so far as to nibble bits of wood from its edge. As a result, little is left of it today.
The Welsh Commisioner of Monuments has said that the artifact is, in actuality, made of Witch Elm wood, and is actually a bowl from the 1400s. Others believe it to be the genuine grail brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea.