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The role of trees in medieval Christianity

MADONNA WITH CHILD

Gerard David | Public Domain

Daniel Esparza - published on 10/05/23

The most recent edition of The Medieval Podcast touches on a subject that some might find surprising: the role of trees in medieval European religion.

The Medieval Podcasta podcast entirely devoted, obviously enough, to medieval saints, people, subjects, and curiosities, is the gift that keeps on giving. Whereas one might think that this kind of podcast would have a rather niche audience, that has not necessarily been the case.

For example, last year host Daniele Cybulskie (the author of How To Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life) invited professor R. Howard Bloch to talk about cathedrals – a subject many people might be interested in, especially considering that the words cathedral and church are oftentimes used interchangeably (and sometimes erroneously) to refer to religious Christian buildings. However, as Philip Kosloski explains in this articlewhereas all cathedrals are churches, not all churches are cathedrals.

A few months later, Cybulskie brought her audience “A beginner’s guide to medieval saints,” an episode in which she introduces some of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, along with their iconography, so that one can identify them when visiting a church, going through a psalter, or visiting a medieval collection in a museum.

Now, the most recent edition of The Medieval Podcasttouches on a subject that some might find surprising: the role of trees in medieval European religion.

From the Tree of Life (and the Tree of Good and Evil), all the way to the Lignum Crucis (and the Christmas tree), “trees were a fundamental part of early medieval society, technology, and culture.”

Indeed, as noted in the article published by Medievalists.net, pagan communities who already venerated trees (even considering some of them as being holy) eventually came to embrace fundamental Christian notions about nature – and traded their “sacred” trees for the Cross. These are the subjects that Cybulskie discusses with Professor Michael D.J. Bintley.

Michael D.J. Bintley is an Associate Professor in Medieval English Literature at Birbeck Univeresity of London. His research focuses on the connections between nature and religion in the Middle Ages – indeed, his most recent book is called Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England.

You can listen to the whole episode here.

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