A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse

 

 “‘There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

The ‘Jesse Tree’, an image of a tree hung with symbols  that traces the ancestry o f Jesus, and often is pictured springing up from a sleeping figure, which may be Jesse, Abraham, or Adam. If it is Adam, then the tree usually grows out of his chest, referring to the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib. If it is Jesse, the tree may be growing out of the man’s loins.

An alternative variety of Jesse tree is hung with the symbols of the story of God’s revelation to humanity from creation to Jesus’ resurrection. For example,  the hanging symbols might include an apple for the story of Adam and Eve, a rainbow for Noah and the ark, a burning bush to symbolize Moses and David with a harp. Some churches have a tradition of installing a tree at the start of the season of Advent and hanging different symbols on it each day or each Sunday, to tell the story of God’s revelation. (Check the Advent Devotional page each day to see other ideas for symbols for your own Jesse Tree) [1]

“Tree of Jesse, c. 1130. Colored ink drawing on parchment, 5 x 3″. From a manuscript made at the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux, reflects Byzantine influences. Early example of the Tree of Jesse, with the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ at her breast. Other images in the drawing include, theological “types” of the virgin birth and Christ including, Moses and the burning bush, Gideon watching the dew fall on the fleece, Daniel in the lions’ den, and the Hebrews in the fiery furnace. [2]

[1] Taylor, Richard, How to Read a Church: An Illustrated Guide to Images, Symbols, and Meanings in Churches and Cathedrals, London: Ryder Books, 2004, p. 237.[2] Petzold, Andreas, Romanesque Art, New York, Calmann and King, Ltd. 1995, p. 130.

This weekend I was able to install the first part of the Jesse Tree Banner I have been creating for my church. You can see that it now reaches fifteen feet in height and the tree that grows from  Jesse’s groin is now connecting to the stained glass window above it. When complete, Jesus will crown the banner and be juxtaposed on the portion of the stained glass window that represents an open bible, the Word of God. This will make a statement about Christ as the living Word.

Now I have begun the process of creating the ancestors of Christ who will “live” in the branches of His family tree. Each king, saint and forebearer is carefully rendered with colored pencil on fabric and then sewn in place.

 

  

 

 Throughout art history (and in biblical history) prophets point the way, telling us where to look, and the Jesse Tree is no exception.

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