Vandals destroy sacred thorn tree

One of the UK's most important symbols of Christianity has been destroyed by vandals.

Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree - famous for its link to St Joseph of Arimathea - was hacked down and reduced to just a stump.

The Holy Thorn, on Wearyall Hill in Somerset, holds a special significance for Christians across the world and is regarded as sacred by many others.

The pilgrimage site is visited by thousands every year and those visiting today were reduced to tears.

Avon and Somerset Police has launched an investigation after local residents found the stump this morning.

Katherine Gorbing, director of Glastonbury Abbey, condemned the vandals who carried out the attack.

"Like the whole town, we are shocked and appalled at this terrible act of vandalism," she said.

"This is the most important tree in Glastonbury and is of exceptional spiritual significance.

"Thousands of people come to Glastonbury to visit the Abbey, the Tor and follow in the footsteps of pilgrims, climbing Wearyall Hill to see the Holy Thorn."

Glastonbury Abbey has its own Holy Thorn tree, which is a direct descendent of the trees on Wearyall Hill, from which a sprig is sent to the Queen for display on her dining table on Christmas Day.

The story of the Holy Thorn and St Joseph of Arimathea - the Virgin Mary's Uncle - is linked to the origins of Christianity in England.

The legend tells of how St Joseph arrived by boat, landed on the Isle of Avalon and having climbed Wearyall Hill, thrust his wooden staff into the ground where it took root and grew into the Glastonbury Holy Thorn, nearly 2,000 years ago.

The thorn is renowned for flowering twice a year at Christmas and at Easter.