03 August 2022
A unique cathedral built
not of bricks and mortar
but of trees and leaves
The Tree Cathedral is a unique cathedral in Milton Keynes, made not of bricks and mortar but of trees and leaves. The Tree Cathedral is one of the jewels of the Parks Trust, and two of us visited it this week after recording my Hiroshima Day address for the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
The Tree Cathedral at Newlands is based on the outline of Norwich Cathedral and was designed in 1986 by landscape architect Neil Higson.
Different species of trees were chosen to represent the different sections of the Cathedral: hornbeam and tall-growing lime for the nave, evergreens to represent the central tower and spires and flowering cherry and apple as a focus in the chapels.
The Tree Cathedral has a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, meaning its visually stunning throughout the year. In springtime, colourful bulbs represent the sun shining through stained glass windows onto the ground.
The Tree Cathedral, with its outline based on Norwich Cathedral, was designed in 1986 by the landscape architect Neil Higson, who chose different species of trees to represent the character of each section of the cathedral.
The arching branches of woodland trees evoke the image and character of a mediaeval gothic cathedral.
Different tree species are used to recreate the outline of Norwich Cathedral, with Californian redwoods making the main tower, cedars at the western entrance, limes forming the columns of the nave and an avenue of fastigiate hornbeam defining the aisles.
Cedar trees mark the west gate of the cathedral and two Cypresses form spires at the west end of the nave. Four Californian redwoods form the tower and the gateway to the cloisters are liquidambar trees.
In the centre of the cloister lawn, four Glastonbury thorn bushes have been planted. The cloisters are lined with a tall hornbeam hedge which shelters the space and makes it a pleasant place for contemplation and relaxation.
The first plantings, using semi-mature trees for its key elements, took place in 1986. As the trees mature, some of the species will be thinned and a range of colourful spring bulbs planted to echo the image of sunlight shining through stained-glass windows.
The car park just off Livingstone Drive marks the start of a route that takes visitors up the winding path to the front entrance of the cathedral. From there, a higher path takes you around the outside of the cathedral and through into the nave which is surrounded by tall growing lime trees.
From there, you can head around to the top of the cathedral, with cherry and apple trees used to represent the chapel.
The outer path offers a view of the evergreen trees used to represent the tower and west door.
The Tree Cathedral is open all year round but is sometimes used for private wedding ceremonies and celebrations. The car park is off Livingstone Drive and the Peace Pagoda and Willen Lake are a short walk away.
Thirty seconds inside the Tree Cathedral in Milton Keynes (Patrick Comerford)