I wanted to write about the Fortingall Yew, not only because some of my ancestors at one time lived and worked the area, but also because people have asked about it.
It’s one of eight pictures that rotate on my blog and each time you visit SpittalStreet.com, or click on another page in the blog, a different picture will appear in the header.
The ancient yew tree that stands in the grounds of Fortingall church in Perthshire, Scotland, is between 2,000 and 5,000 years old, which makes it the oldest tree in Europe. A lot of people do believe that it’s 5,000 years old and I’m inclined to agree. The way I see it, if the yew has existed for 2000 years through the harsh winter conditions in Scotland, then it could easily have survived for 5000 years.
The yew is a primordial tree which is believed to date back for at least two hundred million years and Fortingall is said to lie at the geographical center of Scotland where three major ley* lines meet. There’s a lot of alternative history attached to Scotland, which is certainly thought-provoking.
In 1769, the trunk measured a massive 52 feet round, but is now split into several separate stems, giving the impression of several smaller trees. This is a result of tourists cutting out pieces of wood for souveniers (some things never change) and it can also be attributed to natural decay of the ancient wood. All of this reduced the center of the trunk to ground level, but the tree is still healthy and likely to last for many more centuries.
Scientists have taken cuttings from the branches to be grown by the Forestry Commission at Roslin, close to Rosslyn Chapel (eight miles from Edinburgh) featured in Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” also has ley* lines. The cuttings will be grown by the Forestry Commission and then planted in woods around the country. If the original eventually perishes, the clones will live for a long time..
The area immediately surrounding Fortingall has a variety of prehistoric archaeological sites including Càrn na Marbh**, a Bronze Age tumulus***. The place-name and archaeological evidence points to an Iron Age cult centre at Fortingall, which may have had this tree as its focus.
The site was Christianized during the Dark Ages probably because it was already a sacred place.
According to local legend, Pontius Pilate is said to have been born under the shade of its branches when his father was a Roman ambassador to the Caledonians (Scotland was named Caledonia by the Romans) . It has been said that at the time of Christ, Dun was the home of the Caledonian king Metallanus and the story is that Pontius Pilate was a relative. I plan to write about this in another article.
* “Ley lines are alleged alignments of a number of places of geographical, such as ancient monuments and megaliths that are thought by certain adherents to dowsing and New Age beliefs to have spiritual power.”
** “Càrn na Marbh meaning “mound” or “cairn of the dead” is a re-used Bronze Age tumulus, located in Fortingall. The mound was used in the 14th century for burying victims of the plague away from the church graveyard. A stone, known as Clach a’ Phlàigh, “the Plague Stone” crowns the mound and may be an original standing stone and commemorates the plague victims who were buried here in the 14th century.”
*** “A tumulus (plural tumuli) is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. Tumuli are also known as barrows or burial mounds.”