Glastonbury, watercolour by Marianne Muggeridge (1972) from collection of Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa

Aunty Marj and Glastonbury 

WHILE WELCOMING and being curious about all spiritual paths, Aunty Marj was herself a committed Anglican, with a special affinity for St Mary's Church (later, Cathedral) in central New Plymouth.

Her youngest brother, Tikitūterangi Raumati, had been the first Anglican Maori minister ordained in St Mary's, and when he retired he became the kaumatua of the Cathedral.

Aunty Marj often reminded visitors to Parihaka that Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi were Christian prophets, steeped in biblical teachings as well as mātauranga Māori. She would point to the memorial stone on Te Whiti's grave and remind people that the inscription there was the Christian message of peace and goodwill as sung by the angels gathered at the birth of the child of Christ.

To Aunty Marj, the Anglican Church had indigenous Celtic roots that long pre-dated the arrival of the Roman Church in England in the sixth century AD. The folk histories of these roots tell stories of a young Jesus traveling to England with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a tin trader familiar with the area. This journey to England is celebrated by the poet William Blake in his words for the hymn “Jerusalem”:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

The folk histories also recount how Joseph of Arimathea established the first Christian church on British soil at Glastonbury in the 1st century AD. 


Stained glass detail from St John’s church in Glastonbury showing Joseph planting his staff in Wearyall Hill.

When Arimathea arrived at Glastonbury, he was carrying a walking staff which had been cut from the same tree that Roman soldiers used to make the mock Crown of Thorns that they placed on Christ's head during his crucifixion. The long journey to Glastonbury had been exhausting, and Arimathea and his group stopped to rest on a hill that was later named Wearyall Hill. He struck his thorn staff into the earth, whereupon it miraculously rooted, and burst into bloom. That Holy Thorn was preserved for future generations when cuttings were planted in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.


The Holy Thorn blooms every year at Christmas

THE GLASTONBURY LEGENDS arrived in New Plymouth during the mid-1800s, with its first European settlers, and the construction of the stone church of St Mary's. A cutting of the Glastonbury Thorn was planted in the church grounds by Archdeacon Govett in 1860.

Aunty Marj often took visitors to the tree, which still survives today. She would re-tell the stories of the early roots of Celtic Christianity and the legends of Joseph of Arimathea. She recounted how the original Holy Thorn would miraculously flower in mid-Winter on Christmas Day, rather than in the usual Springtime of similar trees.

And at Christmastime each year, cut blooms of the Holy Thorn were sent from Glastonbury to Queen Elizabeth II, head of the Anglican Church, as a reminder of the roots of the Christmas message and its arrival in England.

In her 80s, Aunty Marj expressed a wish to travel to Glastonbury and walk on Wearyall Hill where, after two thousand years, a living descendant of that original Holy Thorn was still standing.

Her family and friends fundraised to enable this journey which Aunty Marj undertook with her sister Mana.


Moewai Atarea beside the Glastonbury Thorn, planted by Archdeacon Govett in grounds of St Mary’s Church in 1860