Maybe it comes from painting so many trees but I find myself with a number of books about trees. One of my favorites is a set from Thomas Pankenham containing Remarkable Trees of the World and Meetings with Remarkable Trees, containing pictures and descriptions of some truly beautiful and astounding ancient trees from around the globe. There are some magnificent specimens that choosing a favorite would be impossible. But one that always makes me stop as I leaf through is the Chapel Oak in Normandy, France.
Legend has its age as being 1000 or 1200 years although scientists estimate it at about 800 years. It began its career of note in the the 17th century when lightning struck the already old and grand oak, sending a bolt down through its center that smoldered and burned until it had hollowed out a large cavity within the tree. The village priest determined that there was some divine intent in the lightning strike to this tree and built a chapel in the hollow of the tree along with a small room above it suited for a hermit.
Perhaps the priest’s belief in the tree was deserved because, though badly wounded by the lightning and inner fire, the tree still leafed and maintained year after year until the present day. Of course, it has been lovingly nursed and reinforced through the ages. It has cables and straps and two steel supports that give it the look of a creature on two crutches. The large section of the trunk damaged by the lightning lost its bark ages ago and the tree’s caretakers covered the exposed wood with shingles and a spire roof, giving the look of a fairy tale castle. The inner chapel and the room above it have been renovated in recent years, refitted with paneling and mirrors to create more light with the dark hollow.
Of course, it is a place of great interest to tourists and pilgrims alike. I am always torn when I look at the pictures of this tree. Part of me is simply fascinated with the image and the way its caretakers have prolonged its existence. There seems to be a grand reverence in this. But another part of me wonders if the tree should be allowed to simply succumb in dignity to its natural ending without the assistance from humans. I suppose it comes down to how one views all trees and this particular tree. Perhaps, it’s continued life is proof that it desires to endure.
Whatever the case, it remains after enduring the many pages of history that have turned around it. Interesting…