Yew Is The Pagan’s Favourite Tree
That yew is the pagan’s favourite tree is an easy assumption, but is it true? The conflict is that the best trees sit in churchyards, the Christian centre of our communities. The difficulty is then to estimate the age of the yew. Only if it appears older than the church can we consider it pagan. This might imply that it was planted by the druids, about whom we know little.
The biggest yews are in the South, principally on chalk soils. The tree will not tolerate wet conditions and chalk is very free draining. The churchyard yew at Tisbury in Wiltshire is considered to be the biggest, with a trunk diameter of 3.04m. I recently looked at the yew in the churchyard at Stoke Gabriel in Devon, which is over 1.65m. It has a vast canopy spread over gravestones and its huge branches are propped up using beams. It is estimated to be 1000 to 1500 years old. If so, then the yew was planted no earlier than 500 AD. Were we still pagan at that time in remote spots like Stoke Gabriel?
Saints to the rescue
Usually, the pagans used the most prominent spot in their communities to hold ceremonies. That location was favoured by the early Christians when they erected their church. The building then wiped clean the pagan influence over the area. Any yew tree present would have been enclosed within the Christian churchyard. As with so many churches, this one was named after a saint, Saint Gabriel in this instance. The saint would banish pagan myth in the area.
Yew is the pagan’s favourite tree
We know nothing about the yew in the Stone Age. Zuri has no involvement with the tree in my book. If the tree is associated with the pagans then it is not evident much earlier than the Roman invasion. It is quite possible that early Christians and the pagans saw the evergreen yew, known to live for long periods, as immortal. Some people suggest that the Christians placed a branch of yew over dead bodies to signify remembrance. Today, its longevity is under threat as yew trees are severely stressed by our increasing air pollution.