Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Fortingall Yew

There is a tree growing in Scotland that may be the oldest living organism in the world. It is definitely the oldest in Europe. It is called the Fortingall Yew as it is in the small village of Fortingall in the heart of Perthshire. It stands at the entrance to Glen Lyon, which is my very favorite glen in all of Scotland. The yew tree which grows there has been estimated to be as old as 5,000 years. It's girth at one stage was over 56 feet when measured in 1769.
In the last few hundred years, souvenir hunters began to take large sections of the tree and eventually a wall had to be built round it to protect it. Some of its branches only survive because they are propped up. It is a mystical magical place and I am in awe of it every time I visit.
Next to the Yew is a small church which is not old but has seen a lot of history never-the-less. Fortingall has been a Christian centre from a very early date and Adomnán, Abbot of Iona Abbey from 679 to 704 visited Fortingall where crop marks suggest there was an early monastery close to the site of today's church. A hand bell dating from the 7th century is on view in a niche in the church.
There are other relics in or around the church as well. Outside the church are several gravestones with at least one believed to date back to the 7th century. Near the porch is a stone font from the 8th century which stood inside the old church. On display inside the church are fragments of three Pictish cross slabs dating back to the 9th century. They were discovered during the demolition of the old church in 1901. The stones are thought to be associated with the early monastery on the site, and the rear of one is carved with figures thought to be monks. The incorporation of the carved stones into the structure of the church was a common medieval practice, and while this led to the fragmentation of the stones, it has also meant they were protected from weathering for a number of centuries.
Close by is a unique triangular formation of megalithic stone circles. Legends coming down through the ancient oral tradition, say that Pontius Pilate was born at Fortingall. There are also stories linking Fingal, the ancient Caledonian warrior king, with this same area.

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