The creation story in Middle-earth tells of the Two Trees that gave Light to the Blessed Realm; and the light that they radiated was the Flame Imperishable, the source of life, the Flame of Iluvatar [God].
• Telperion was the Silver Tree.
• Laurelin was the Golden Tree.
The Trees were destroyed by Melkor [a fallen Vala, or angelic being: he would become known as Morgoth] and Ungoliant, an evil form of life. The Light of the Two Trees was captured in the Silmarils, the great hallowed jewels made by Feanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen.
The Silmarils were then stolen by Melkor and taken to Middle-earth. Many of the Elves living in the Blessed Realm then rebelled and forsook the Undying-lands, and passed into exile to re-claim the Silmarils. They passed into the East.
Before the Two Trees died however, their last flower and fruit were made by the Valar into the Moon and the Sun [the enemies of darkness].
And Elbereth [Queen of the Valar], had previously made the Stars of Heaven with the dews of the White Tree, Telperion.
Even though the elder tree, Telperion did not survive, it was not the last of the White Trees. Yavanna [another angelic being of the Valar] had made an 'image' of it in Tirion, called Galathilion.
Many thousands of years later a sapling of this tree was gifted to the Numenoreans from the Elves of Eressea which was part of the Blessed Realm [those who had remained and not forsaken Valinor] while the Numenoreans lived on the island of Numenor off the coast of the Eressea.
The Encyclopedia of Arda gives an account of this time:
"In the early days of Numenor, its people still had the friendship of the Elves of Eressea. Among the gifts the Eldar gave to the early Numenoreans, one of the greatest was a white seedling of the tree Celeborn that stood in the middle of their island. Planted in the King's Court in Armenelos, the seedling grew into a fine White Tree that came to be known as Nimloth. Its blossoms appeared as the Sun set, and their perfume filled the night in Numenor's royal city."
"The tree of Tol Eressea, Celeborn, was itself descended from Galathilion, the White Tree that stood in Tirion that was made by Yavanna herself. Its descendant Nimloth stood in the courts of Armenelos for thousands of years." [arda]
So the Numenoreans had in their possession, an image of the White Tree, Telperion. They also received the Seven Seeing Stones [Palantiri] from the elves at this time, as well as beautiful singing birds and many other gifts of exquisite nobility and integrity.
The Numenoreans are Aragorn's ancestors and received this abode off the coast of the Undying-lands for the help they had given in the wars against Morgoth during the First Age. The Numenoreans were descended from unions of the Three Houses of the Edain [Edain = Men] and the High Elves, the Eldar.
The Men of Numenor rose in great power and wisdom from what they had received from the Elves and from the Elven blood that was in them. Through enlightenment from the Elves of the Blessed Realm, they gave honour and reverence to Eru, the One God and to the Valar.
During this time Sauron began to stir in Middle-earth. The Numenoreans became aware of this and sailed to Middle-earth with a force so great and powerful that Sauron surrendered and his armies were scattered. They foundered harbours along the coasts Middle-earth. But the King in his pride took Sauron captive and returned to Numenor with him.
Sauron soon deceived the King with a honey tongue and fostered in him a jealousy of the Elves who had immortal life.
"Sauron gained control of Numenor's government and saw the White Tree as a link to his enemies the Valar, and ordered it destroyed. So the White Tree of Numenor was cut down and burned on the altar-fire of Sauron's temple." [arda]
The King, being poisoned by this influence, lead the island of Numenor in a revolt against the Blessed Realm. The Valar became aware of this and besought Eru to provide a solution. As the great armada of Numenoreans ships came near the Coast of Valinor, a huge tidal wave rose up, destroyed the ships and engulfed Numenor.
But, during this time of corruption and evil in Numenor, there remained a remnant called the Faithful, who still revered Eru and the Valar; and loved the Elves. They fled Numenor as the great armada left for Valinor, and sailed to Middle-earth. They took with them, the sceptre of the King, the Seven Seeing Stones, a fruit of the White Tree and other royal artefacts. Elendil and his sons were the leaders of this remnant but more importantly, there were of the royal family, and hence setup the Kingdom of Numenor in Middle-earth [Gondor and Arnor] and claimed the Kingship.
"But the line of Galathilion did not end in Sauron's flames. Isildur the son of Elendil had stolen a fruit from the Tree before it was lost. The fruit grew into a seedling that Isildur carried to Middle-earth with him after the Downfall of Numenor. That seedling was planted in Minas Ithil, and was destroyed before the end of the Second Age. Its seedling in turn grew into the first of the White Trees of Minas Tirith, a line that was to outlast Sauron himself." [arda]
Sauron then returned to Middle-earth.
The Seven Seeing Stones were kept in Seven of the Towers & Cities in the Numenorean Kingdom [Three in Gondor & Three in Arnor, and Isengard].
In three abodes in the North were:
• Tower of Elostirion
The three cities in the south were:
• Minas Anor, Tower of the Setting Sun.
• Minas Ithil, Tower of the Rising Moon.
• Osgiliath, Citadel of the Stars.
[Osgiliath was the chief of these cities where the master stone was kept].
The Sun, Moon and Stars in Middle-earth were all made from some element coming from the Two Trees [their fruit, and dew]. Tolkien explains that these [Sun, Moon and Stars] were the enemies of Darkness, not just in a physical sense but also an eternal sense. [Gollum and Orcs hate the sunlight and moonlight].
The Numenoreans, having had contact with the Elves from the Blessed Realm while in Numenor, and having a reverence of Eru and the Valar, would have understood this significance and named the Cities in honour and reverence of these great sources of light for the world. And hence honoured the creation of them and the source of them; the Two Trees that radiated the Light of the Imperishable Flame, the breath of life from Iluvatar.
These heavenly lights; Sun, Moon and Stars are caught up heavily in the mythology of the Lord of the Rings, but are extremely symbolic in the Good versus Evil arena that is set up in the story.
Osgiliath was destroyed in the ensuing wars against the evil forces of Sauron. Sauron took Minas Ithil and burned the White Tree growing there, [Minas Ithil was renamed Minas Morgul, Tower of Spells] but Minas Anor remained and was renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard and became the Seat of Power in the Kingdom.
The Steward and the King:
Just as in the Garden of Eden there were Two Trees:
• Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
There were also Two Trees in the Blessed Realm [a quasi-Garden of Eden of Arda]. These Two Trees were destroyed in Valinor just as the Two Trees in the Garden were taken away from humanity.
In the Lord of the Rings, Minas Tirith [and also the Kingdom of Gondor] is similar in symbolism to the Church and the New Jerusalem in Heaven. It has Seven Levels and is the centre of the Kingdom with the White Tree Telperion in the courtyard of the King where the fountain flows.
[This is further developed in Priest Prophet & King], and embedded in this, are even more parallels, particularly in reference to the Trees of Life [as already outlined in First and Last things].
As pointed out in Women of Middle-earth, the Pilgrimage of Faith of the Church and it's faithful here on earth is often compared with the imagery of the Church being a boat on a voyage in dangerous seas, with Mary helping in bringing the boat home to safe shores is very traditional, spiritual and theological.
Tolkien describes Minas Tirith in detail in his book. Twice he mentions it being like a large sea-going vessel:
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