146 Tree of Life.


In that part of the Romance of Lancelot du Lake which relates to the Sainct Graal, there is a curious account of the Tree of Life, which is more likely to be the traditionary belief of that age, than the invention of the mystical romancer who added these wild and incongruous fictions to the story.

When Adam and Eve were expelled 277from Paradise, Eve still carried in her hand, unconsciously, the fatal branch which she had plucked from the forbidden tree; and casting her eye upon it, and calling to mind all the evil of which it had been the occasion, she resolved that she would keep it for ever, as a memorial of her great misadventure. But then she recollected that she had neither coffer nor hutch to keep it in, for in those times it was not yet the custom to have such things, so she planted it upright in the earth, and by the will of the Lord it struck root, and became a great tree. Now the trunk and the branches and the leaves of this tree, were all as white as a peeled nut, that it might be a type of virginity[1], and by reason that she who planted it was yet a virgin. One day while they were lamenting their fall under 278this tree, a voice came forth from it and comforted them, so that thenceforth they took great joy in beholding it, and called it the Tree of Life, and planted many slips from it, all of which grew, and were white like their parent stock.

But when by the command of the Lord, Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived of Abel under that tree, then the whole tree[2] became green,and then it began to flower and produce fruit, which it had not done till then, and all the young trees which proceeded from it after that time, partook of the same nature, but those which had grown before continued white, after its former nature. And when Abel and his brother Cain grew up, and Cain killed Abel under that tree, upon the 279very place where he was begotten, then the tree became of the colour of blood, and from that day forth it never put forth fruit or flower, neither could any young tree be raised from it, but it continued just as it was, neither bettering nor worsening. Nevertheless, the trees which sprang from it, retained each its own nature, according to the nature of the stock at the time they were set off. And they continued thus till the time of the flood, and the waters of the flood, which destroyed all other things, did nothing harm these trees, and thus they continued till the age of Solomon,

Here the legend is connected with the story of the Sangraal and Sir Galaad. I do not know where the author of the romance found it; there is another fable respecting the Tree of Life which has been a received tradition among the more credulous catholicks, and of which traces were found in Abyssinia. The Sybil is referred to as the original authority…a book which I have at present no 280means of consulting. Adam being about to die, and in great fear of death, earnestly desired to obtain a branch of this Tree, thinking that so he might escape the dreadful effects which his sin had brought into the world, and he sent one of his sons to the gate of Paradise to solicit this favour. The son accordingly made his petition to the cherub who guarded the gate, and that angel gave him a bough, to the end that that which had been appointed might be fulfilled; for meanwhile Adam had departed. The son therefore planted it on his grave; and it struck root and became a great tree, and attracted the whole nature of Adam to its nutriment.

The Tree, with the bones of Adam from beneath it, was preserved in the Ark. After the waters had abated, Noah divided the bones as relics among his sons. The skull fell to the share of Shem, and he buried it on a mountain of Judæa, called from thence Golgotha, Calvary, or the Place of a Skull. The Tree was 281planted upon Lebanon, and it was of an extraordinary nature, for it was at once palm, cypress, and cedar, that it might be typical of victory, death, and eternity. Of this mystical wood the Cross was made, and it was erected upon the very spot where the skull of Adam had been deposited.” So, says Tentzehus in his Mumial Treatise,[3] that he who perpends the matter well shall find, that whole Adam as it were is re-collected in and under the Cross, and so with an admirable tie conjoined to the vivifical nature itself; which how pleasant, efficatious, and full of consolation, let each one consider; for he that deserved death, is present in and under the Cross, and he that repaired life, yea that is life itself, 282is affixed to the Cross; the true concordance of life and death, of a sinless saviour and a sinfull man; whereby life is united to death, and Christ to Adam, not without the superinfusion of blood, for better and more fecundity, that so Adam and his posterity, eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree might be really transplanted into Christ, and by a certain celestial magnetism and sympathy attracted to Heaven, translated to life, and made heirs of happiness.”

  1. Si sachez que virginite et pucellage ne sont pas une mesme chose, ne une mesme vertu, mais y a grant difference entre lung et lautre, car pucellage ne se peut de trop comparer a virginite, et si vous diray pour quoy. Pucellage est une vertu que tous ceulx et toutes celles lout qui nont attouchement de charnelle compaignée; mais Virginite est trop plus haulte chose, et plus merveilleuse; car nul ne la peut avoir, soit homme ou femme, pourtant quil ait volunte de charnel attouchement, et celle virginite avoit encores Eve quant elle fut gectee hors de Paradis. Part 3, ff. 104.
  2. Fut toujours de verte couleur amont et aval;.. this manner of expressing above and below is worthy of notice.
  3. Being a natural account of the Tree of Life, and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, with a mystical interpretation of that great secret, to wit, the Cabalistical Concordance of the tree of life and death, of Christ and Adam, translated by R. Turner , London, Φιλομαθης, 1657.


Icon for the Public Domain licence

This work (Omniana by Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) is free of known copyright restrictions.

Share This Book