THE CHRISTMAS THORN OF GLASTONBURY
A LEGEND OF ANCIENT BRITAIN
ADAPTED FROM WILLIAM OF MALMESBURY AND OTHER SOURCES
THERE is a golden Christmas legend and it relates how Joseph
of Arimathea—that good man
 and just, who laid our Lord in his own sepulcher, was
persecuted by Pontius Pilate, and how he fled from Jerusalem
carrying with him the Holy Grail hidden beneath a cloth of
samite, mystical and white.
For many moons he wandered, leaning on his staff cut from a
white-thorn bush. He passed over raging seas and dreary
wastes, he wandered through trackless forests, climbed
rugged mountains, and forded many floods. At last he came to
Gaul where the Apostle Philip was preaching the glad tidings
to the heathen. And there Joseph abode for a little space.
Now, upon a night while Joseph lay asleep in his hut, he was
wakened by a radiant light. And as he gazed with wondering
eyes he saw an angel standing by his couch, wrapped in a
cloud of incense.
"Joseph of Arimathea," said the angel, "cross thou over into
Britain and preach the glad tidings to King Arvigarus. And
there, where a Christmas miracle shall come to pass, do thou
build the first Christian church in that land."
And while Joseph lay perplexed and wondering in his heart
what answer he should make, the angel vanished from his
Then Joseph left his hut and calling the Apostle Philip,
gave him the angel's message. And, when morning dawned,
Philip sent him on his way,
 accompanied by eleven chosen followers. To the water's side
they went, and embarking in a little ship, they came unto
the coasts of Britain.
And they were met there by the heathen who carried them
before Arvigarus their king. To him and to his people did
Joseph of Arimathea preach the glad tidings; but the king's
heart, though moved, was not convinced. Nevertheless he gave
to Joseph and his followers Avalon, the happy isle, the isle
of the blessed, and he bade them depart straightway and
build there an altar to their God.
And a wonderful gift was this same Avalon, sometimes called
the Island of Apples, and also known to the people of the
land as Ynis-witren, the Isle of Glassy Waters. Beautiful
and peaceful was it. Deep it lay in the midst of a green
valley, and the balmy breezes fanned its apple orchards, and
scattered afar the sweet fragrance of rosy blossoms or
ripened fruit. Soft grew the green grass beneath the feet.
The smooth waves gently lapped the shore, and water-lilies
floated on the surface of the tide; while in the blue sky
above sailed the fleecy clouds.
And it was on the holy Christmas Eve that Joseph and his
companions reached the Isle of Avalon. With them they
carried the Holy Grail hidden beneath its cloth of
snow-white samite. Heavily they toiled up the steep ascent
 hill called Weary-All. And when they reached the top Joseph
thrust his thorn-staff into the ground.
And, lo! a miracle! the thorn-staff put forth roots,
sprouted and budded, and burst into a mass of white and
fragrant flowers! And on the spot where the thorn had
bloomed, there Joseph built the first Christian church in
Britain. And he made it "wattled all round" of osiers
gathered from the water's edge. And in the chapel they
placed the Holy Grail.
And so, it is said, ever since at Glastonbury Abbey—the
name by which that Avalon is known to-day—on Christmas
Eve the white thorn buds and blooms.