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Circles under churches
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PeterH
PeterH
1180 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 12, 2005, 13:06
I'm not a medievalist, but I understand that most longbows were made from elm. Nothing further to add to what I have said already on species of yew - in Britain, Ireland, Europe, N.Africa and Asia Minor its the same one - Latin tag or not. I have not said that elm was not imported, I merely state that the yew that was growing in those countries which could export to Britain is EXACTLY the same species of tree that was growing in Britain. So if "English" yew was brittle and unsuitable for bows, so was the imported yew because its exactly the same. Only variation would be that caused by climate and soil condition affecting growth.

Interesting topic, and I have learned a lot and having considered all opinions I have changed my view on churchyard yews. Experts often disagree and I have quoted the expertise of the authors of "Flora Britannica, but then I consulted Oliver Rackham who is probably the greatest authority on trees and the countryside.

Warning! Nigel - you aren't going to like this.

Firstly he confirms the Cheshire place name survey "Thorn and ash are the commonest trees in English placenames (also Welsh and Cornish)...but yew is apparently ABSENT.."

On churchyard yews:- "People believe that yews are very slow-growing and that the big ones are of fabulous antiquity - 2,000 years or more. They are supposed to have been sacred trees before the churches were built. As far as I know, however, there is nothing to connect yews with any of the pagan religions of Britain, though there may be a connection with early Christianity. The theory that churches were built on pagan sacred sites has received disappointingly little support from excavation. If yews were a feature of early churches, why are there no place-names such as Yewchurch? Yew can grow quite fast when young and the ages may be exaggerated. A big yew can well be as old as the present church, but is unlikely to be older than its Anglo-Saxon predecessor. (Yews were not grown for longbows, which were normally of elm or imported yew.)"


My opinion now? I mostly agree with Rackham. Even the oldest yews would have been saplings before Christianity - not the wonderfull weird and contorted beauties that we see today. The red berries and resurrection elements are most likely Christian. Ancient trees are very common in the British landscape and almost absent from Europe until you get to Greece. We do like our old trees and I wonder if this is not an Anglo-Saxon/Norse thing - Irminsul, Yggdrasil and all that? Oak, ash and thorn are the real pagan trees of British myth and legend aren't they? Anyone know of any really genuine old folktales about yews and yew magic ? (apart from the Greek and Roman ones)
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