Olive Tree Woodwork

The Christian olive wood carvings and crafts in Bethlehem began in the fourth century


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History of olive trees

Olive is an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean, Asia, and parts of Africa. It is found in many parts of the Middle East. The first olive trees appeared on the eastern Mediterranean coast around 4,000 B.C.  After 200 years of growth, the trunks of the trees disappear and are replaced by new shoots. This process allows olive trees to live to be nearly 3,000 years old. The tree that Jesus prayed under in Jerusalem prior to his crucifixion is still producing olives today. The olive trees in Palestine require both cool winters and long, hot growing seasons. In October, the olive trees are harvested and pruned, providing a sustainable, renewable resource for craftsmen to use throughout the year. Olive wood from the Holy Land has its own unique richness and texture.


The Bible, the Qur’an and the Torah repeatedly refer to the olive tree as a symbol of peace, fertility and prosperity. In the story of Noah's Ark, an olive branch was brought back to the Ark by a dove, symbolizing peace. On Palm Sunday, pilgrims carry olive wood branches commemorating the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The importance of olive oil as food, fuel and in religious ceremonies in the Holy Land cannot be overstated.  The oil is said to be the essence of the tree itself and therefore the essence of cultural and spiritual life.


Olive wood industry

It has a long and important history in the Bethlehem area. The Christian olive wood carvings and crafts in Bethlehem began in the fourth century following the construction of the Nativity Church that was built on the traditional birth place of Jesus Christ. It was Saint Joseph the carpenter who taught Lord Jesus Christ the wood work. Olive wood was mainly used for wood carving work. As it is stated in the Holy Bible: “But I, like an olive tree in the house of God, trust in God's faithful love forever” Psalm 52:8. At that time, monks taught the local residents how to carve olive wood. In the sixteenth century, growth in this craft expanded due to the aid of Franciscan fathers who brought Italian artisans to teach the residents how to improve on their carvings. The olive-wood crafts began in the city of Bethlehem by the Bannoura family as well as other Christian families.


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