Move Over Tree Houses, Here Come Tree Churches


Photo Credit: Tree Church

Unlike most 10-year-old boys who dream of being firefighters, astronauts, or Spiderman, New Zealander Barry Cox wanted to be pope. Little did he know that he would grow up to be an inspiration in a different way. With the Earth as his landscape and its gifts as his tools, Cox created the living, breathing, “Tree Church” in his own backyard.

“I walked out my back door one day and thought, ‘That space needs a church’ — and so it began. I cleared the area in April 2011 and made the iron frame, drawing on all the research I had done over the years of studying churches,” Cox told NZ Gardener.

Cox spent years touring New Zealand, Europe, and America, often on a motorcycle (how zen is that?) studying the proportions, angles, heights, and pitches of church roofs, walls, and porticoes. He credits his lifelong fascination of the architecture and ceremony of churches to his Italian ancestry.

But Cox also has a deep love of trees. His business, Treelocations, rescues and relocates them. Using a specially designed tree space — a huge machine that resembles an apple corer — Cox can scoop up large trees, including their root balls. There are only three such spades in use in New Zealand.

“People know how much I love trees,” said Cox, “so they call me when the trees that would otherwise be cut-down or removed. I go and kind of rescue them.”


Photo Credit: Tree Church

The combination of Cox’s love of church architecture and trees was the inspiration behind Tree Church. Its walls are formed with Leptospermum macrocarpum “Copper Sheen,” an Australian tea tree with thick, textured foliage. The color resembles stone. For the roof, the flexible branches of Alnus glutinosa “Laciniata,” or cut-leaf alder, bend over the iron frame. The alder’s foliage is sparse, allowing beams of light to filter inside the church.

Cox originally created the church as a place of private enjoyment for his family and himself. But last year, after overwhelming interest from friends, local garden clubs, and couples wanting to use the peaceful, natural setting for their wedding, Cox decided to open Tree Church to the public. And the response has been overwhelming.

Guests enter the grounds through a pair of wrought iron gates, formerly on the Cox family farm. Then through a walkway made of double-lined white Betula utilis, or Himalayan birch trees, they make their way to the Tree Church itself. Inside the church, an aisle of grass leads to marble altar from Lake Como Italy, where Cox’s family is from. Outside the church is a circular labyrinth with a design based on the walls of the ancient city Jericho.


Photo Credit: Tree Church

Most people combine their love of trees and architecture to create amazing tree houses. But Cox’s Tree Church is not the first time an artist has connected their love of religion and nature to design a tree church.

At the base of Mount Arera in northern Italy, artist Guiliano Mauri created the Cattedrale Vegetale (or Tree Cathedral) out of more than 600 chestnut and hazel branches winding around 1,800 fir-tree poles. And there’s also the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire and the Cathedral of Trees by Milton Keynes.

These churches allow visitors to experience the divine in a different way. Instead of separating themselves from the beauty and abundance of creation with stone walls, paint, and plaster, worshippers and visitors can express their love for the divine along with their love for nature. They can hear the wind rustling through the leaves, smell the grass and bark, and feel the heat of summer and cool of winter.

The Tree Church is a perfect place to connect — whether that means by meditating in the gardens, capturing the perfect picture, or saying, “I do.”

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .