Thought for the Day by Clive Barrett (St. Michael’s)
The Tree of Peace
The Peace Museum in Bradford has a collection of 7,000 peace-related artefacts.
One amazing Christian peace artefact, however, is here in Headingley. It’s made of oak…
The original Original Oak was not a pub but an Otley Road tree, by the corner of Shire Oak Road. For centuries it was the focal point for regional government. The Skyrack (another pub!) wapentake, or region, covered the area between the Aire and the Wharfe, from Keighley and Ilkley in the west, to the current A1 in the east.
The Domesday book records 82 settlements in the Skyrack wapentake, with Headingley at the centre. The oak was the regional meeting place. Weapons would be crashed against each other as a sign of agreement. For centuries, the oak was the place of assembly, local government, decision-making, good order, the settling of disputes. In short, the oak was a place and symbol of peace.
The last remnants of the oak collapsed in the 1940s.
At street level there’s only a battered plaque in the pub wall, but some original wood was retained. The famous mouse-carver Thompson of Kilburn took the largest piece and carved a beautiful Madonna and Child, now a focal point for adoration, prayer and spiritual peace in St Michael’s Lady Chapel.
It’s all that remains of a West Riding tree that was a peace symbol for centuries.
More than an historic artefact, it draws us now into the peace of God, to reflect on the birth of the Prince of Peace, and his questioning, justice-proclaiming mother.
The Headingley oak was a gathering place for people over hundreds of years. We continue to gather in our Headingley churches, rooted in the peace of the past, inspired by the peace of the Lord, committed to continuing the work of peace in this place.