Crosiers, cathedrals, and the memory of trees
Many have commented on the resemblance between a bishop’s crosier and the delicate spiral of a tree fern. Which came first? Well, that one is obvious- no ecclesiasts roamed the earth before angiosperms ruled.
Let’s think about a more obscure connection: cathedrals and trees.
The great building period for the Gothic cathedrals coincided with a period of rapid deforestation across Europe.
As the massive cathedrals were being raised whole forests were being felled to meet the needs of a growing population.
My question is this: as the architects of York Minster and Chester cathedral designed their interlocking arches, did they dream of their lost Wirral?
Did the echoing spaces of the vast buildings bring them closer to their god? Or did the heavy walls insulate them from the verdant dark danger beyond the town gate?
Do the arches contain the revered memory of the lost trees, or are they the visible armature of defence from fear?
“The forest, an overwhelming presence of the great North, is the genius loci of the Gothic church. The tall tree trunks become columns, the ogive vaults replicate the arching of the branches connecting the trees high above. Light from the low northern sun filters through the long vertical breaches between the columns as it does through the trees. The forest/cathedral is home to northern imagery. Fairies, fantastic animals, ghosts, monsters peek out from every corner and receptacle. It was in the forests that Druids performed their liturgies and magic rites, that Celtic legendary heroes went to seek their glory or escape their curses. Man was alone, in the forest, and his relationship with God was personal, direct and somewhat fearsome.
“Notes for a history of glass in architecture: the Cathedrals