One of the largest and most ancient yew trees in Britain is Kenn Yew, a tree giant that has a circumference of 10.56 m and is more than 1,500 years old.
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Churches and yew trees
Most of the yew trees were eliminated in Britain during the 13th-15th centuries to obtain the sturdy wood that was used for weaponry, such as longbows.
Nevertheless, the yew trees in churchyards were spared. It is possible that superstitions helped in this: for example, there was a belief that the roots of these trees grow through the eyes of the deceased in church graveyards, thus preventing the dead from the return to the world of the living. So, who would want to unleash these apparitions?
Kenn Yew, like almost all the giant yews of Britain, is next to a church – here it is the Parish Church of St Andrew at Kenn. Or, rather, this church was constructed at the Kenn Yew, because the tree is much older than the church. The first church there was built before the middle of the 12th century, but the current church was built mainly in the second half of the 19th century in a Neo-Gothic style with parts from the 14th-century church included.
There is a possibility that Kenn Yew was a part of a pre-Christian shrine and the church was built there due to this.
Description of Kenn Yew
The trunk of this male tree (yews are dioecious, e.g. they have gender) becomes thicker with height, dividing into several trunks. Thus its circumference is measured on the ground level.
This is Britain – the natural landmarks there were noticed and measured already during the 19th century. In 1840 the circumference of the tree was 10.11 m – then it was measured some 40-50 cm above the ground.
In 2015 the measured thickness of the trunk was even larger: 11.67 m.
The trunk almost immediately divides into two parts and it has a huge hollow. The tree is healthy and we can hope that this fantastic tree will increase in size in the future as well.
Due to the enormous hollow in the middle it is almost impossible to tell the age of the tree. But it exceeds 1000 years and, most likely, is closer to 2000 years of age.
- Sophie Nadeau, This Churchyard in Devon is home to one of the oldest Yew Trees in Britain, Escape to Britain. Accessed on November 19, 2022.
- Yew/Yews at Kenn England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on November 19, 2022.
The natural and cultural wonders of England are very diverse and here are found some of the world’s most impressive landmarks in several categories, such as churches and museums.
The category includes some of the most impressive and interesting separate trees in the world. The total number of tree species in the world still is a wild guess – maybe 10,000 and maybe 100,000 but most likely somewhere in between. Every month there are reported new tree species from the whole world, including Western Europe.
Throughout many centuries the United Kingdom has enjoyed relative political stability and wealth. As a result, humans have created here countless amazing and well-preserved values of art and history.
With its bright red, poisonous berries to its dark evergreen foliage, the yew tree is a familiar sight in ancient churchyards, as well as the carefully manicured and sculpted grounds of stately homes. Beyond its striking appearance and amazing longevity, the humble yew has played a surprisingly important part in European history throughout the ages: A sacred tree to the pagan druids of old, as well as a key ingredient of medieval warfare.
The gnarled, immutable yew tree is one of the most evocative sights in the British and Irish language, an evergreen impression of immortality, the tree that provides a living botanical link between our own landscapes and those of the distant past. This book tells the extraordinary story of the yew’s role in the landscape through the millennia, and makes a convincing case for the origins of many of the oldest trees, as markers of the holy places founded by Celtic saints in the early medieval ‘Dark Ages’.