Tree of Life Memorial Garden @ St. Helen’s Church, Sandal Magna, Wakefield

You’ve just gotta go and see this, it’s truly amazing, honest!

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A brand-new Tree of Life Memorial Garden for the interment of ashes, unique in the whole world, and right there in the churchyard of St. Helen’s Church, Sandal Magna, Wakefield!

The parish of Sandal Magna is one of my most wonderful CMS Link Churches, so on my visit there this past weekend, I just had to go and see the Memorial Garden….

It really deserves to be more widely known, and the vicar Rupert Martin has kindly given me permission to use some of his original photos and info about the whole project….

This was his original letter sharing his vision with his congregation last year….

The Genesis of Tree of Life: A Memorial Garden in Sandal Churchyard.

“For some years we have been thinking about creating a Memorial Garden in Sandal Churchyard mainly for the interment of ashes. Up until now there has been space for this to be offered, but that space is running out and there has been a significant increase in people wanting interment of ashes rather than burials.

The PCC set up a group consisting of myself, Neale Clark, John Ellis and Brian Pratt to find a suitable location and develop plans for a small garden, about 50 m2 in size. The best site seemed to be the free area at the bottom of the Churchyard, within walking distance of the Car Park in the Land Rover garage. The consecrated land near an old Chestnut Tree was ideal, and a rectilinear plan was drawn up based on three interlocking crosses. This didn’t work very well, and the idea arose that the interlinking crosses could be translated into a tree, and the plaques could take the shape of leaves.

After Liz Ashmore and I visited Portobello to see the superb murals next to the shops, created by sculptor, Dan Jones, we brought him in to develop this idea further. He came up with a drawing with further additions to the tree, drawing inspiration from the passage in Revelation 22, where the tree of life is described beside the river of the water of life, bearing 12 kinds of fruit.

The resulting design includes all the main symbols of that Biblical text; the water, the tree, the street, the fruit and the leaves, which speak of the healing and fruition of life in a beautiful vision of heaven. What could be more appropriate for a Memorial Garden, where people will be reflecting on the big issues of life and death? The sculpture with its Biblical vision of life after death will bring comfort and healing to those who visit. Its location near a real tree, and with lovely vistas of the hills beyond the hedge, will provide a place of tranquility and peace, full of beauty and birdsong.

The area is much larger than originally intended, covering 450 m2, and consequently will be about nine times more costly than planned. The advantage of creating a garden on this scale is that it will serve the needs of Parishioners for more than 30 years, depending on demand. The disadvantage is that it will cost significantly more. With the help of funding from recent legacies, we only need to find half of the total cost of £67,000. So let’s be praying that gifts or loans will be forthcoming to enable this work to go ahead sometime in 2014, so that our caring ministry to the bereaved can continue to grow. A gift day will be held in the Autumn.

In addition to the excellent work of the Bereavement Visiting Team, and the Funerals and Memorial Services which we hold, we will be developing a 5 week course entitled The Bereavement Journey, which will help people come to terms with their loss in a gentle and sensitive way. Through all these means we hope to embody the love of God to those in need, as James wrote in his letter: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. 

May God bless us as we embark on this adventure of faith which will bless many people in years to come.” Rupert Martin

Fast forward to only 6 weeks ago ~ and the Press Release, produced for the dedication on October 26, 2014….

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“The Tree of Life Memorial Garden for the interment of ashes in Sandal churchyard is an original work of art created by architect, Liz Ashmore and sculptor, Dan Fraser Jones, from an idea of the Vicar, Rupert Martin, with help from Richard Williams furniture designer and Tecni-build Building Contractors. The Tree will be dedicated by The Rt Revd Tony Robinson at a service on Sunday, 26th October at St Helen’s Church, Sandal and in the Churchyard.

A patch of brambles in Sandal Churchyard has been landscaped into the shape of a tree with symbolic sculptural features which reflect the verse in the Bible which speaks about heaven; “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the peoples.”

(The Tree of Life design pdf: Tree of Life vertical)

Dan Fraser Jones has sculpted the main features of the river, the fruit, and the leaves out of Kilkenny Blue Limestone, to create a beautiful work of art, which will provide a haven of peace and comfort to all those who visit. The seating, representing the throne, has been designed by Richard Williams of rwfurniture.

Any resident of the Parish of Sandal Magna, which stretches from Busy Corner through Sandal to Newmillerdam, and from Portobello across to Walton, is entitled to have their ashes interred here, and each plot will be marked by a plaque in the shape of a leaf which can be engraved with two names.

The Tree of Life Memorial Garden is placed at the end of Sandal Churchyard, near an ancient Chestnut tree, overlooking Oakenshaw Beck with Heath Common in the distance.

It can be accessed from the main road down past the Church or from the nearby car park which is available when the Guy Salmon Land Rover garage is open.

Rupert Martin has used his experience of commissioning works of art in the landscape for the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, to meet the need for a place in which ashes of Parishioners can be interred in the ancient Churchyard.

Liz Ashmore, based in Golcar, Huddersfield, has worked on a number of projects including the Barnabas Rooms, St Paul’s, Walton, and the Spring Community Shop and Cafe in Sandal.

Daniel Fraser Jones, based in Doncaster, created two large scale murals in Portobello three years ago, and recently exhibited his work at the Beverley Art Gallery. A gifted draughtsman and sculptor, he is familiar with the challenges of working in the landscape.

Richard Williams based in Huddersfield, is well-known for creating unique works of furniture for specific places.

Tecni-build Building Contractors are based in Holmfirth, and have worked with the Church refurbishing the Rainbow Cafe in Portobello and The Spring in Sandal.

Rupert  Martin writes: “It has been a delight to work with Liz, Dan and Richard and the team of Tecni-build, to create a beautiful and practical Memorial Garden which will provide a place of peace and comfort for Parishioners and all who visit, for many years to come. Its iconic shape and artistic design will be an inspiration to many.”

Really inspirational ~ you just MUST go and check it out!

Updated April 30, 2015: Congratulations on winning the Wakefield Civic Society Award for best New Project! Read all about it in the following article:

Civic Society Award for Tree of Life in Wakefield Church | The Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.

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