Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Yew trees and churchyards

Apparently many churchyards in England have yew trees growing in them. Some of the trees are much older than the churches, and some have obviously been planted there when, or after, the church was built, sometimes near a door, as in the picture below:

The religious/spiritual/ritual/sacred significance of the yew goes back beyond the advent of Christianity in England. Churches were sometimes built on sites that had pre-Christian sacred/spiritual significance, hence the presence of yews already.

The yew continued to signify a connection to those gone before us to the hereafter, and of death, but also of life everlasting - resurrection in Christian terms. So they were often purposely planted on church grounds.

This particular door with its yews is said to be the possible inspiration for the doors of Moria in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It is found at the rear of a church in a small town in the Cotswolds, where Tolkien is said to have gone wandering and sketching. In Tolkien's version, however, the trees flanking the doors are ancient hollies.

An interesting aside, in the Harry Potter books, Voldemort's wand is made of yew wood (it dispenses death, yet its wielder seeks everlasting life), and Harry's wand is made of Holly - anciently thought to be a ward against evil.


Ocean Girl said...

Isn't yew a conifer type tree that looks like a bush?

Can't imagine that it can grow so old and so big to be like in the picture.

And what an amazing point, what we thought was movie inspired was actually real life that inspired movies.

aromatic said...

Just love that door!!! I think thats a beautiful idea.
When I was just a young girl (many years ago!) Mum and Dad had a yew tree growing at the bottom of the garden... a really lovely tree and absolutely massive. Where Mum lives now she also has another yew growing in this garden... not so big but equally as gorgeous!
Yew seems to follow Mum wherever she lives.. wonder if this has any sort of a meaning to it???
Lovely to have you back!
Love Jane and Many Woofs from Basil xxxx

ICQB said...

Hi Ocean Girl!

Apparently yews can reach an age of thousands of years - hence the connection to everlasting life.

There are bristlecone pines, which are much smaller, in California that can also reach a tremendous age. I think some of those are the oldest trees on earth.

ICQB said...

Hi Jane!

While I was in your part of the world I wished I could drop by for a visit. We were on a tight schedule and didn't make it up to your part of England. I would absolutely have loved to have given Basil a pat in person!

Hope your mum is doing well, and it's lovely to be back, too.

Wags and woofs to Basil!