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Wed 4 Apr 2012 11:00 BBC Radio 4 FM only

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 04 April 2012

In the small hours of 8 December 2010, the "holy thorn" tree of Glastonbury was cut down by persons unknown wielding a chain saw. The next few days saw an outpouring of grief from pagans and Christians around the world. The thorn, it is alleged, was 2000 years old and planted by Joseph of Arimathea when he came to England in the first century. The Thorn was "miraculous" because it flowered twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. For in Glastonbury, Christianity sits awkwardly alongside paganism - its Abbey is supposedly the oldest Christian building in Britain. The destruction of the Thorn was blamed on anti-pagans, or alternatively anti-Christians. In this programme Jolyon Jenkins investigates the theories.

People who know of Glastonbury from its music festival may be surprised to know that the town itself is the witchcraft capital of the UK. The high street is dominated by purveyors of wiccan paraphernalia. Apart from the witches, there are Goddess worshippers, faerie followers, astrologers, shamans, alchemists, geomancers, druids, spiritualists, and every possible variety of alternative healer. So there are two mysteries of the holy thorn. One is who cut it down, and why. The other is why it seems to mean so much not just to Christians, but to the hundreds of pagans who have settled in Glastonbury.

The former mayor detects "a certain taste of Satanism". The local Catholic priest reports finding evidence of animal sacrifice on his church steps. The local Anglican vicar feels that Christians have been getting marginalised and that that he "needs to put Christianity back on the map". So how did Britain's oldest Christian centre become Witchcraft Central?


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