Trees can be planted to commemorate the dead, events and anniversaries, and as they grow, they provide a natural ‘clock’ for the seasonal and annual temporal cycles of remembrance, and a metaphor for the persistence and ‘growth’ of remembrance.
As places rooted in tradition and the past, and regularly visited, heritage sites can be a locus of various 20th- and 21st-century commemorative arboreal practices alongside other kinds of memorial. Having previously discussed a memorial tree to commemorate the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 at Raglan Castle, I’ve also encountered another, this time in the context of arguably some of the most beautiful monastic ruins in Europe: Tintern Abbey
The location of the tree is distinctive: set to the eastern edge of the monastic ruins. Is it significant, perhaps, that the location is beside the eastern edge of the infirmary hall: affording a connection to the coronation event with monastic healing? In any case, situated in this location, and thus on the far side of the ruins for visitors, it is set apart from the church and not competing with it, whilst situated so as to become part of the context of the ruins and a distinctive landmark in itself.
On the tree’s southern side is a prominent carved memorial stone marking its significance. The Roman arched form and modest size mark it as a commemorative plaque akin to, but distinctive from, a gravestone.
THIS OAK TREE
THE CORONATION OF
KING GEORGE V
The symbolism of oak in relation to ‘England’ and primordial Britain, to endurance and strength, is well discussed.
Together, the tree and its early 20th-century memorial stone add a patriotic dimension to the monastic ruins: celebrating the 20th century’s third of five British monarchs.
The ‘biography’ of the monument is not only tangible in the height and scale of the tree – emphasised by being the only isolated tree permitted to grow so close to the fragile medieval ruins – but in its associations. Two picnic tables frame it: making it a place of repose in shade and a place to view the ruins.
Also, close by is another royal memorial established 66 years later: a bench with plaques commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee. As we’ve seen before: memorials beget memorials, although they shared a wooden component and spatial affinity, QE2 didn’t get her own tree…