Old trees are symbols of wisdom, longevity and serenity. They occupy a central place in human culture. Cradles of nature and our landscapes, we grow up with them and create sometimes astonishing stories. The Oak of Herchies offers its own tale charged with the spirituality of ancient history. For centuries, generation after generation have gone to the tree’s foot to invoke its power in the hope of healing small or major ills.
How many nails are in the bark of the Oak of Herchies? At points over two metres high, they symbolise a belief which endures in the village. The tradition of healing trees dates back to the dawn of time, and still today some primitive populations of the globe worship them devotedly. People invoke the forces of nature by implanting a nail in its bark along with a dressing rubbed onto the affected part of the patient. The object thus transfers suffering to healthy wood to help the healing of women, men and children. Might our old oak be endowed with beneficial powers? It’s difficult to say with certainty, but regular visits by the population actually bring its mystery to life, to point of making the site sacred.
The place is dominated by calm and serenity. Located away from the village, on the edge of a field, our oak stands humbly amidst winds and birdsong. It is touching to behold; time seems to stand still. Seeing thousands of nails and fabrics, you cannot help but think of those who invoke its power. Here we forget everything else; the presence of the old tree captivates us, soothes us. Flowers at its foot and lit candles attract its attention with messages and prayers. People appeal to it, they thank it simply - always with deep respect. It is like a friend who never judges you.
The village population loves its oak; it’s very attached to it. People don’t talk about it; it’s like a secret garden which is there, an endearing humble heritage. Each person leads their relationship with the tree as they wish, sometimes just to bring the place to life by strolling up to it. But its story almost ended. In 1954, an old oak that was already planted there got ill and died, causing a stir among the population. The decision was made to replant a young oak tree to continue the tradition. 60 years later, the tree has grown without losing its healing power, probably carried along by the magic of the place. It was officially classified by the Walloon Region in 1985. Belgium today still has some healing trees, but their number is falling because they are no longer being replaced. If you come across one, think: trees respect each other and ground us in life.
Good to know: the nail oak tree is located on rue des Chat à Herchies.