St Newlina's Fig Tree

GNC

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#1
Is St Newlina's fig tree still in that churchyard in Cornwall? Legend has it if anyone prunes it or even takes a leaf from it, they will die. In 1957, for example, it was trimmed by three workers, two of whom died and one was seriously injured, all within the year. Supposedly the Archdeacon of Cornwall took a leaf from the tree in 1964 and died within a year.

Any truth to this curse, or is it all bunkum?
 

rynner2

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#2
I've lived in Cornwall for nearly 16 years now, and I have never heard of this.

And neither (even more strangely) has Google!
Finding nothing, it asked if I meant St Newline, so I said yes, but it still found nothing! (It's a conspiracy, I tells ya! 8) )

Maybe I should try Newlyna or Newlyne...
 

rynner2

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#3
Have just remembered that there is a village called St Newlyn East in Cornwall - and I was actually there a couple of w/e's ago! :shock:

But I was waiting for a bus, so didn't have time to visit the church.
(In any case, the bells were ringing, apparently for a wedding, so I'd have been intruding.)
 

rynner2

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#4
More web searching threw up another mystery: I got onto two web pages where I got stuck in a loop, and couldn't get back to my original Google search. (It is a conspiracy!)

Found these brief comments:
Church It has a fatal plant which if you eat one of the leaves, you die within a year.
The Church is small but beautiful. It has it's own legend, involving St. Newlyna after whom the village was named.
http://www.knowhere.co.uk/5_goodbad.html

St Newlyn East. Post Office, store, pub, toilets.
Pretty village centred around three churches!
Its largest, the Parish Church of St. Newlyn East,
has a fig tree growing out of its wall. Nobody
knows how old it is, however legend has it that
anyone who harms it will be cursed and will die
within the year.
http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/pdf/m/ ... piran1.pdf

And that seems to be all. (And one time I went back to change my Google parameters, only to find all fields blank! :shock: Very weird.)

Anyway, thanks gncxx for pointing me at this - I'll go back there next available opportunity and hunt this thing down!
 

wembley8

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#5
"In ancient days Newlina came
The Saint who gave this place its name
Her staff she planted and she prayed
Let here a Church to God be made
This fig tree is her staff folks say
Destroy it not in any way
Upon it lays a dreadful curse
Who plucks a leaf will need a hearse"

http://www.st-newlyn-east.cornwall.sch. ... illage.htm

For a full account of the whole damn legend - inlcuding the key bit, "Here for the first time she stopped, to pray. She stuck
her staff into the earth, where it became a tree. Three drops of blood
fell upon the grass, and three fountains immediately sprang up..."

http://www.mail-archive.com/irishcathol ... 00237.html

Stuffed full of symbolic imagery.

Maybe there's some mysterious secret encoded in the legend.
All the clues seem to point to something being buried at -

(thud)

- gasp -

...dsfnaerucvmwutoobtecdcthulhu...

........
 

mindalai

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#6
never being one to turn down a google challenge I managed to find thispage, which includes a picture of the fig tree, but no more info than Rynner has already given.
 

GNC

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#8
Great work, everyone. Seems to be a pretty obscure legend, but Rynner, if you do visit, don't take your secateurs!
 

rynner2

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#9
Well done on the research.

Another mystery now - I thought I'd post a pic I snapped of the church, only I can't seem to access Photobucket. Is the web slow, or what? :?
 
A

Anonymous

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#12
No idea about the fig tree, but we have a small wood next to us, and everyone who has ever cut any wood there in all the time I've known it has always either lost a pet or a relative, contracted a terminal disease, or died.

This is over a dozen people in about 17 years. Before anyone asks, it doesn't make any difference whether they ask the tree/wood first, before they cut, or what reason they're taking the wood for. Of course, it is possible people have cut wood there without me knowing (unlikely) and got away with it, and statistically, I could just have had a patch of meeting very unlucky people who take a lot of stupid risks in their lives.

I've given up saying anything to folk (even just mentioning that they shouldn't be cutting wood in there, without saying anything about the inevitable ensuing death) - they either don't give a cack about cutting live wood anyway, or think they're too spiritually advanced to be affected (the latter group can also be under the illusion that they will be protected by the spirit of Ray Mears). Ho hum.
 

rynner2

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#14
OK, I've been back and taken some pictures of the tree. It actually grows out of the south wall of the church, above head height, "without any visible forms of nurture", as the Church guide book says.





Comparing these pics to the smaller one shown in
http://www.st-newlyn-east.cornwall.sch. ... illage.htm
(as posted earlier), it's clear the 'tree' has been trimmed.

In fact, at some time it's been quite heavily pollarded, as my third pic shows:



I do hope some poor tree surgeon didn't suffer a ghastly death as a result!

(Google experts can try searching for 'death, tree surgeon, Cornwall' or whatever!)

I wonder how old the tree actually is, as, according to the guide book, the church (which dates back to Norman times) was quite largely rebuilt in the 19th century. "Crumbling walls were taken down and rebuilt using the old stone." And I'd guess a wall with a tree growing out of it was more crumbly than most...

Anyhow, it's still an interesting find.
 

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mindalai

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#15
Good photos! I hope the tree surgeon has good insurance because he's taken off a big chunk of that tree.

I wonder how it got there? You often see buddleia bushes growing out of walls and even chimneys but their seeds are much smaller and more common. I can't think how a fig seed would get half way up a church wall and take root. They're hard enough to grow in good soil, never mind dry mortar.
 

GNC

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#16
Excellent photos, Rynner. I guess that lays the legend to rest, judging by the pruning that has gone on (we'd have heard if there was a curse at work by now). And I guess it doesn't bear fruit, unless there are other fig trees in the area?

So how on earth did it get there in the first place?
 

PeniG

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#17
There's a fig tree growing out of a wall on the San Antonio Riverwalk, too - much bigger than that one, with no curse attached, and supposedly dating to 1921. September 1921, to be precise. That was the day of the big flood that started the Riverwalk as an entity. You see, there is a horseshoe bend in the San Antonio River, around which downtown grew up, and when the flood waters came barrelling down the relatively straight river and hit this bend, they piled up and flooded the entire area. The subsequent installation of flood gates, construction of a drainage channel (making the area inside the horseshoe bend effectively an island), flood tunnels, linear park, and tourist attraction extraordinaire resulted directly from this flood.

The fig tree, which grows from the wall of a building immediately adjacent to the first flood gate and therefore at the point where the water hit the bend, is accounted for as having been a stick carried by the flood waters and driven by their force into the limestone wall, along with some soil. The tree thus did not grow from a seed, but from a cutting, and it is doing very well. St. Newlyna's fig is also, according to the legend, from a cutting (her staff), but seems to be nothing like as well-nourished.

This page has a picture, but I can't get the big version to load. Page down a bit. http://www.pbase.com/oldtbone/riverwalk03
 

rynner2

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#18
I wonder if the idea of the curse was a transference to St Newlyn's tree from the biblical story of Jesus cursing the fig tree (something that many Christians have found perplexing, to judge by the number of explanations given on the web!)
Jesus and the Fig Tree

Matthew 21:18-22

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."


Mark 11:12-14, 19-25

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

When evening came, they went out of the city.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree, when figs weren't in season?
Some light is shed on this passage by an article in Hard Sayings of the Bible by F. F. Bruce:

Was it not unreasonable to curse the tree for being fruitless when, as Mark expressly says, "it was not the season for figs"? The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called "The Barren Fig Tree" published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April).

"Now," wrote Christie, "the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner. They grown to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry. When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off." These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh in Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later. So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh, that is a sign that there will be no figs. Since Jesus found "nothing but leaves" - leaves without any taqsh- he knew that "it was an absolutely hopeless, fruitless fig tree" and said as much.

F. F. Bruce goes on to describe the cursing of the fig tree as a real-life parable that emphasized the spoken parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. It is also likely that Jesus, knowing in advance that his disciples would be surprised by the quick effect his curse had, used the fig tree to provoke their reaction and thus make the lesson about faith more memorable.


When did the fig tree wither?
The potential problem here is that Matthew says the fig tree withered immediately, while Mark says the withered tree wasn't seen by the disciples until the next day. Here is a possible sequence of events that reconciles the two accounts:

On the morning after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus and the disciples return to Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus sees a fig tree some distance from the road. He goes to it to check for figs, while the disciples continue on the road. Jesus curses the fig tree and the disciples hear him. The fig tree withers, but the disciples have passed the tree and don't yet notice that it withered.

Jesus and the disciples return to Bethany in the evening; likely it's too dark to see the tree. The next morning, they return to Jerusalem along the same road. As they near the fig tree, Peter points it out, and he and the disciples express amazement that it's already withered.

(Gleason Archer presents the case that Matthew compressed the events of two days into one account in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties - his argument is summarized by Smith, Chowdry, Jepson and Schaeffer.)
http://www.rationalchristianity.net/fig_tree.html
 

JamesWhitehead

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#19
Great pictures, ryn. Good to have a vague story become so nearly tangible.

The fig tree seems a pretty determined thing but I've known a few that have not thrived under domestic conditions. Maybe we killed them with kindness and over-watering.

Watford used to have a Fig Tree Tomb with a legend attached:

from here

"St Mary's churchyard, near to the High Street, is home to the Victorian legend of the Fig Tree Tomb. An atheist who once lived in Watford requested he be buried with an object, which if it were to germinate, would signal his spirit still lived. A fig tree grew from the tomb soon after his burial. The fig tree died in the 1960s"

Other sources specifically state it died during the cold winter 0f 1962 - 63

Oh, here's a lot more detail:

from here

The Famous Churchyard Fig Tree

April 25, 2001 13:55: Information on a fig tree which stood in Watford Parish Churchyard was requested

ROSEMARY WOODLAND, of Merryfield Flats, Ashby Road, Watford, writes:

THERE are some strange stories about a tomb in Watford Parish churchyard. A fig tree once grew out of it, and some people still believe its germination and growth had supernatural causes.

The tree died in the severe winter of 1962/63.

One of the legends about the tomb concerns a lady atheist, said to be the occupant. On her death bed, the lady held to her lack of belief in a God, and said, if there was a deity, a fig tree would grow out of her heart.

Another story, said by the historian Helen Rudd to be the most authentic of the many old tales about the grave, is that the body in the tomb belonged to a naval officer called Ben Wangford, who died in the middle of the 18th Century and who did not believe in the hereafter.

The story goes that he asked for something to be placed in the tomb that would germinate. If there was a God, this would grow and burst the tomb to prove to his family that his soul was alive. If not, then nothing would happen and he would be proved correct.

An extract from the parish magazine of September 1898 says of him: "Ben Wangford, as he was generally called, lived about the middle of the last century. I can't say if he was a native of Watford or if married. But he was buried in St Mary's churchyard and had a handsome tomb for that period. He was a man of enormous size. It is said that his boots could contain a bushel of corn.

"I have not heard what was placed in the coffin but a fig tree appeared and for years was passed unnoticed by strangers. Now it is very much talked of and people travel for miles to visit the tomb."

The Book of Watford (compiled and edited by Bob Nunn) mentions the story about the lady atheist and states that the tomb was accidentally opened during the lowering of the churchyard in the 19th Century.

Countless burials had taken place around the church without benefit of coffins, with the result that earthwork grew so high the parishioners had to step down some three or four steps to enter the building. This caused considerable dampness and inconvenience.

During the lowering, rows of skeletons were uncovered, which appeared to have been buried side by side, and were probably remains of those who died during times of plague. In 1540, some 47 burials took place between July and September, and there were similar interments in 1592, 1594 and 1625.

In his History of Watford (1884), Henry Williams says: "Under the south wall of St Katherine's Chapel stands a tomb through which is growing a fig tree that each year exhibits considerable luxuriance and sometimes produces figs. This fig tree has probably grown there for close upon 100 years, as some 15 or 16 years ago I enquired of one of the oldest inhabitants what knowledge he had of its age, and he told me he remembered that, when he was quite a child, it was growing there and apparently as large as now."

This book also quotes the story of the lady unbeliever and says it was not thought absurd by the "credulous" of the last century who handed the tale down from one to the other, giving it such an air of truth it came to be looked upon as a fact by a great number of people, not only Watfordians, but throughout the country.

Hundreds visited the churchyard, many making long excursions for the purpose of seeing the "notorious" tree and, if possible, taking home with them a leaf or small branch.

"By some of the believers in the legend, the tree was looked upon with veneration, as to them it was evidence of the existence of a God that must have come directly from the Almighty against unbelievers."

However, Mr Williams says that when the tomb was opened it was found that the root of the tree was some four or five feet above where the occupant's head must have been. He said some tendrils had attached themselves to the bottom of the vault and to this he attributed the luxuriant growth of the fig tree, as these must have obtained much more moisture than those parts of the root that grew from the top of the vault.

For some, the fact the tree did not grow out of the coffin discredited the old legends, while others still held it was strange such a tree should grow out of a tomb at all.

Colin Bullimore has done a lot of research into the history of the church, and said: "It seems three-to-one that it was Ben Wangford and not a woman who was buried in the tomb".

He spoke about the peculiar shape of the coffin, which was found to have a projection at the top. This led to the conclusion that the person must have died with his or her knees up and that, after death, the knees could not be straightened.

Mr Bullimore said there was also a theory that the seed of the fig tree could have been accidentally thrown into the tomb by the Hon. William Robert Capel, who was vicar of St Mary's from 1799 to 1855.

He was very fond of figs and used to grow the trees. As he made his way from the vicarage to the church, entering the latter through the little south door, he would eat the figs and throw the pips away.

A Watford resident said she remembered visiting the tomb as a child and seeing the tree. She thinks it was "in the way" and that it was "helped to die".

This lady firmly believes the story about the atheist, and thinks the presence of the fig tree for so many years is ample evidence of the existence of a God.

The churchyard was taken over by Watford Council some years ago and has been an open space for a long time. 9:0am Wednesday 25th April 2001


:D
 

StormMagic

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#22
I live a few miles from St Newlyn East heard the story when I was younger, and everyone seemed pretty adamant that the curse was real, I've never heard of anyone local daring to prune it. :shock:
 
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