THE LINDEN TREE - Lore and Significance
Written by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska

This sketch shows how linden trees are often used, for flanking a boulevard. This sketch is by Johann Stridbeck the Younger (1691) of the area surrounding Neustadt Gate in Berlin, Germany. The linden tree held a special place in the heart of many Slavic peoples.

Legends About the Linden Tree

Sometime during the Middle Ages, a Prussian tribal leader was pardoned by the ruling Teutonic Knights and thanked God by placing Mary's likeness in a local linden tree. Rumors of miraculous healing and epiphany soon attached local pilgrims to the Holy Linden (Swieta Lipka). Soon so many came to this tree, that the Teutonic Knights built a shrine to the arbor in 1320. Two hundred years later, the knights razed the Catholic chapel due to a religious reversal and slowed the believers down, by installing threatening gallows, complete with bodies, around these trees. However, the gallows eventually rotted and flocks of Germans and Poles still visited the Santuary of Our Lady. This Santuary is located near Mragowo in the Mazury region of Poland.

Lipa is the Polish name for the linden tree, and Lipiec is the Polish name for the month of July. This is most likely because lindens blossom in July, and the linden tree has always held a place in the hearts of the Polish people. Old lindens were considered sacred trees in Poland's past. They were symbols of exalted, divine power, valour, and victory. The ancient Greeks and the Slavs regarded the Linden as the habitation of their goddess of love.

Later, as Christianity came to the area, this legend was incorporated into Christianity as the tree of the Blessed Mother. In folktales, the Blessed Mother hid among the linden's branches, and revealed herself to children. Many wayside shrines were placed under linden trees for this reason. Lightning was thought never to strike a linden tree, and thus it was a "lucky" tree.

Lindens bloom in July and have fragrant creamy white to light yellow flowers. Beekeepers loved the lindens as bees gathered profusely in their blossoms. Country people and the nobilty enjoyed the product of the bees. They used honey as sweeteners, the making of mead, and beeswax for candles. Old lindens often hosted beehives in their hollowed out trunks. Bees were important and in 1401, it is said that people, in Mazowsze, passed laws to protect bees and beekeeping. People were severely punished for cutting down linden trees and thus cutting linden trees was associated with bad luck and even death of a member of the family. This is a result of the fact, that often times, a painful death was the punishment for cutting down lindens.

Rings of lindens often were the tree of choice in courtyards, markets, cemetaries, and pilgrimage chapels devoted to the Virgin Mary, and the bees, the Linden blossoms attracted, provided beeswax candles to illuminate the church.

Blooms from the linden tree were used for a therapeutic tea (with honey, of course). This drink helped colds and induced sweating that broke fevers (Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz, Polish Customs, Traditions, And Folklore. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1998, 139-142.).

The linden tree was loved by all Polish people and it stands for family, faith, and the good life. Read "Ode to a Linden Tree."

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This page was last updated on April 23, 2007

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