The history of the post-glacial expansion of beech is closely linked to European culture. The beech’s colonisation of the landscape took place in parallel to human sedentarisation and the emergence of more complex social systems. It is thus not surprising that the beech has become an important element of European culture.
The beech has particular significance in recent cultural history. Numerous names of regions and towns in Europe can be traced back to their association with the beech. The Old English word “bookstaff” is derived from beech staves with carved runes, it was later displaced by the term “letter”, however, the term “book” still refers to its roots. And books still play a decisive role in cultural history.
The sublime and solemn atmosphere of a beech forest, with its slender and smooth branchless trunks reaching up high, evokes a religious sense of awe. To our ancestors, the quiet beech forests permeated by subdued light served as an archetype for the medieval cathedrals. Hence, they were commonly called “hallowed halls".
The photo shows the interior of the Gothic cathedral in the French town of Coutances © Eric Pouhier
Old trees and ancient, primeval forest inspired artists to important works of painting and music, poetry and literature. Artists were early advocates for the protection of ancient trees and forests in many places in Europe. The arts are still an important vehicle for the observation and understanding of nature today.
The painting on display here is Kreidefelsen auf Rügen (chalk cliffs on the Isle of Rügen) by Caspar David Friedrich, circa 1818.