The tree that ‘warned’ a Tudor queen

Ash trees: A pattern revealed by a storm-damaged tree in 1559 was said to have been a snub to Queen

Ash trees: A pattern revealed by a storm-damaged tree in 1559 was said to have been a snub to Queen Elizabeth I. - Credit: PA

Nature: Grace Corne looks at the strange world of 'divine signs' in trees.

The weather forecast said 'gales' and although the trees were not bearing leaves our hearts sank. Early in the morning there were vicious gusts and we knew what we could expect when we went outside. We were not wrong. Twigs and branches had been torn off, leaves had been whisked up and deposited in the pond and one or two of the most mature trees had branches ripped off and fallen. One we were particularly fond of was a large lilac tree, half of which now lay on the path.

It was sensible to log it on the spot ready for the fire and the logs were brought indoors. I picked one up to look at it and got quite a surprise, for on the end of the log was a perfect picture of a curly-haired boy.

Had I lived in earlier times I might have made a fortune from this picture and could even have become a place of pilgrimage.

Some plants regularly produced pictures or initials when cut and one of these was bracken. If a good, strong stem was cut through it was possible to find the perfect initials JC, obviously of great significance. There are also reports of a beech tree which, when felled, bore the complete name JESU. This apparently healed a sick woman and consequently became a sacred relic around which a chapel was built in its honour.

In the year 1559 an ash tree was split into pieces by a storm and was said to reveal a perfect depiction of the cross. At that time Queen Elizabeth I had issued an order that sacred images should be removed from churches and the appearance of this 'relic' was thought to be a lesson to her.

It was not only Guy Fawkes who was executed for involvement with the Gunpowder Plot. Father Garnet also died, and was hung, drawn and quartered. A piece of straw laid down for the execution was found to bear a perfect reproduction of Father Garnet's face. This was later proved to be a 'miracle too far' for it was inspected and considered to have been painted there by its finder, John Wilkinson.