Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

REVIEW: Glastonbury Holy Thorn

Posted on by royvickery |

Adam Stout, Glastonbury Holy Thorn: Story of a Legend, Glastonbury: Green & Pleasant Publishing, 2020.

In 2007 Stout published his The Thorn and the Waters: Miraculous Glastonbury in the Eighteenth Century, in which he explored attitudes to the Holy Thorn, Crataegus monogyna ‘Biflora’, and the attempted development of Glastonbury as a spa to rival Bath in the 1700s.  In his new book, he bravely attempts a ‘straight history of the weird’ by tracing legends associated with the Thorn from the earliest record of it to the present, and demonstrating how these legends adapted and grew in response to changes in religious beliefs and politics.  Thus in the sixteenth-century  protestants  claimed that as the Thorn had grown from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff it provided evidence that Christianity arrived in centuries Britain before Pope Gregory despatched Augustine to England late in the sixth century, while others regarded it as a ‘very Catholic miracle, and one whose continued existence bolstered believers and troubled their tormentors’.

By steering a route between cold academic analysis and the more way-out beliefs which flourish in Glastonbury, Stout has created a valuable account of the Thorn, though he admits that he like others has ‘a certain set of ideas … and a view of the world to promote’.  The current volume is extends Stout’s 2007 work, perhaps a further, fuller, extension will follow.  In places more context would be useful:  we are told that ‘Dr Layton took care to send specimens to Thomas Cromwell when he visited the abbey in August 1535’, who was Dr Layton and what was the purpose of his visit? However, this is followed by interesting information about the disreputable prior of Maiden Bradley, who provided Layton with information about the Thorn.

Numerous black-and-white illustrations and colour plates enhance the book.  One minor error appears to be the statement that the Thorn cannot be grown from seed, but needs to be grown from cuttings ‘grafted onto an ordinary blackthorn’; surely the cuttings are usually grafted onto an ordinary hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, rather than blackthorn, Prunus spinosa?  However, this book will remain one which I will keep at hand an consult whenever I need information on the Thorn.  Thank you Adam.

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