There are two things that have long been a part of Barry Cox‘s life: trees and church. When Barry was 10 and growing up in New Zealand, he even wanted to be Pope. Needless to say, he abandoned that career goal, but his love for churches (particularly their architecture) continued. He traveled throughout Europe and the Americas, studying churches large and small, old and new, then came home to New Zealand and started Treelocations, a tree moving business.
Cox loves trees, and his business allows trees to be moved, roots and all, to a new location. He’s even taken to “rehoming” trees on his own property, resulting in a forest of trees that would have been otherwise cut down.
After the start of Treelocations, Cox’s next project began to take form. He says the idea struck him all of a sudden one day back in 2011. “I walked out my back door one day and thought, ‘That space needs a church’ — and so it began,” he says. He built an iron frame and based his design on the churches he’d spent so many years studying.
The walls of the church are an Australian tea tree varietal with thick, lush foliage. Cox keeps it in shape by trimming it every six weeks. The roof is made from cut-leaf alder, a deciduous tree that’s flexible enough to be trained up along the iron frame. It has much sparser foliage, which allows light inside. In a few years, the alders will be able to support themselves, and the frame will come down.
Inside, there are pews and a marble altar from Cox’s family church in Shannon, where he grew up, served as head altar boy, and dreamed of being Pope. To top it all off, a rambling rose grows up and across the top of the church, blooming all throughout the summer and filling the space with its fragrance. The whole structure is surrounded by even more hedges and flowers.
Originally, Cox had planned on using the church for his own enjoyment and keeping it private. However, many of his friends and relatives were so curious that he finally opened the Tree Church, as it’s now known, to the public in January 2015. His nephew was even married in it, and soon other couples were following suit, including some who are not religious. “We are not religious at all, but felt that the Tree Church gave our wedding a sense of venerability in a natural, relaxed, and non-denominational way,” one bride explained.
Getting everything just right for an event can take up to eight hours, and Cox isn’t even done. He plans to build a European garden behind the church (to balance the labyrinth in front), as well as a natural amphitheater for outdoor events.
See some incredible views of the living, breathing church here:
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