Europe’s churches may be masterpieces, but one cathedral in Italy has traded stone for saplings to make a place of worship that’s both divine and down-to-earth.

Located in Bergamo in northern Italy, the Cattedrale Vegetale (the Green or Plant Cathedral) uses trees and branches to create a cathedral-like structure at the base of Mount Arera. The five-aisle basilica gets its structure from 42 columns, formed by weaving more than 600 chestnut and hazel branches around 1,800 fir tree poles, the branches curving at the top to form the arches.

Since these man-made columns will eventually deteriorate, a single beech tree has been planted inside each column. After several years, the trees will eventually outgrow the structure, creating a completely natural wall and roof. The frame was completed in 2010 as part of the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity, but beech trees take decades to fully mature, so the 650sqmetre cathedral remains an evolving structure. 

Cattedrale Vegetale is one of the most impressive and structured tree cathedrals in the world, but it is not the first of its kind. The cathedral’s artist/architect Giuliano Mauri built a similar structure in Valsugana, Italy in 2002, as part of Arte Sella, an exhibition of environmental and natural art. In the United Kingdom, the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire was planted in 1932 as a response to World War I, and the Cathedral of Trees was created in Milton Keynes following the same design as Norwich Cathedral in Britain’s east.