In the famous Chartres Cathedral in central France, in stained glass there survives the oldest Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree was one of the most popular subjects in Medieval architecture. The Jesse Tree Window dates back to 1145 A. D. The Jesse Tree tradition was inspired by the words of Isaiah:
"And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root."
As you can barely see from the image on the right, Jesse, the father of David, reclines at the base and from him springs a tree, or rod. At the top of the tree, we see Our Lord and directly below him, the Blessed Virgin.
Following the above quote, Isaiah wrote:
"And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord."
In the Chartres Jesse Tree, Our Lord is surrounded by symbols that represent the gifts of the Holy Ghost. This ancient Jesse Tree is very full of meaning and I recommend that you read further into its rich symbolic significance and I encourage you to create your own Jesse Tree tradition around Christmas time.
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The Jesse Tree is a symbolic way of learning and remembering the events that led up to the birth of Our Lord. Several ornaments are used to represent each important person or event and many are of the lineage of Our Lord. The ornament that represents Mary is very special. Her ornament is placed near the top of the tree directly beneath Jesus' ornament.
This special place near the top of the tree illustrates the importance of Mary by showing that she is the shoot of Jesse through whom Jesus was born.
2. Creation of Man
3. The Fall of Man
14. St. Joseph
15. The Blessed Virgin Mary
16. St. John the Baptist
The way the Jesse Tree craft takes shape can range from simple to elaborate. Some great starter kits are available but it is a fun family activity to make handmade ornaments.
Some mediums you can use:
There are two methods of using the Jesse tree and both are fine. There is the historical method (This is the one which we usually do) and the typology method.
"In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said: Be light made. And light was made."
"And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness; and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.
And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, saying; Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth."
"And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat...
And the Lord God said to the woman: Why hast thou done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel."
"I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth. And when I shall cover the sky with clouds, my bow shall appear in the clouds: And I will remember my covenant with you, and with every living soul that beareth flesh: and there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.
And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it, and shall remember the everlasting covenant, that was made between God and every living soul of all flesh which is upon the earth. And God said to Noe: This shall be the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh upon the earth.
And the sons of Noe who came out of the ark, were Sem, Cham, and Japheth: and Cham is the father of Chanaan. These three are the sons of Noe: and from these was all mankind spread over the whole earth."
Genesis 12:1-3, 16
"And the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father' s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and IN THEE shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed...
And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: if any man be able to number the dust of the earth, he shall be able to number thy seed also."
Genesis 22:1-3, 6-13
"(God) said to him: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am. He said to him: Take thy only begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will shew thee.
So Abraham rising up in the night, saddled his ass: and took with him two young men, and Isaac his son: and when he had cut wood for the holocaust he went his way to the place which God had commanded him...
And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son: and he himself carried in his hands fire and a sword. And as they two went on together, Isaac said to his father: My father. And he answered: What wilt thou, son? Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust?
And Abraham said: God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust, my son. So they went on together. And they came to the place which God had shewn him, where he built an altar, and laid the wood in order upon it: and when he had bound Isaac his son, he laid him on the altar upon the pile of wood. And he put forth his hand and took the sword, to sacrifice his son.
And behold an angel of the Lord from heaven called to him, saying: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am. And he said to him: Lay not thy hand upon the boy, neither do thou any thing to him: now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake. Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw behind his back a ram amongst the briers sticking fast by the horns, which he took and offered for a holocaust instead of his son."
Genesis 28 12-15
"And he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it; And the Lord leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed.
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and IN THEE and thy seed all the tribes of the earth SHALL BE BLESSED. And I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land: neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said."
Genesis 37:11,18, 23-25, 28, 31, 36
"His brethren therefore envied him...And when they saw him afar off, before he came nigh them, they thought to kill him...
And as soon as he came to his brethren, they forthwith stript him of his outside coat, that was of divers colours: And cast him into an old pit, where there was no water. And sitting down to eat bread, they saw some Ismaelites on their way coming from Galaad, with their camels, carrying spices, and balm, and myrrh to Egypt.
And when the Madianite merchants passed by, they drew him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ismaelites, for twenty pieces of silver: and they led him into Egypt...And they took his coat, and dipped it in the blood of a kid, which they had killed...
The Madianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Putiphar, an eunuch of Pharao, captain of the soldiers."
This Jesse Tree symbol has two readings one for the baby in basket: Genesis 2:2-10 or for the tablets: Genesis 20:1-17
"And she...bore a son; and seeing him a goodly child hid him three months. And when she could hide him no longer, she took a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and pitch: and put the little babe therein, and laid him in the sedges by the river' s brink, His sister standing afar off, and taking notice what would be done.
And behold the daughter of Pharao came down to wash herself in the river: and her maids walked by the river' s brink. And when she saw the basket in the sedges, she sent one of her maids for it: and when it was brought,
She opened it and seeing within it an infant crying, having compassion on it she said: This is one of the babes of the Hebrews. And the child' s sister said to her Shall I go and call to thee a Hebrew woman, to nurse the babe? She answered: Go.
The maid went and called her mother. And Pharao' s daughter said to her. Take this child and nurse him for me: I will give thee thy wages. The woman took, and nursed the child: and when he was grown up, she delivered him to Pharao' s daughter. And she adopted him for a son, and called him Moses, saying: Because I took him out of the water."
Alternate Ten Commandment reading:
"And the Lord spoke all these words: I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:
And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain. Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be longlived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour' s house: neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his."
1 King 3:3-4, 10, 19-20
"Before the lamp of God went out, Samuel slept in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. And the Lord called Samuel. And he answered: Here am I...And the Lord came and stood: and he called, as he had called the other times: Samuel, Samuel. And Samuel said: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.
And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and not one of his words fell to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Bersabee, knew that Samuel was a faithful prophet of the Lord."
The scripture for this Jesse Tree ornament are taken from
1King chapter 16
"And the Lord said to Samuel: How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, whom I have rejected from reigning over Israel? fill thy horn with oil, and come, that I may send thee to Isai the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons...and thou shalt anoint him whom I shall shew to thee. Then Samuel did as the Lord had said to him...And he sanctified Isai(Jesse) and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.
Isai therefore brought his seven sons before Samuel: and Samuel said to Isai: The Lord hath not chosen any one of these.
And Samuel said to Isai: Are here all thy sons? He answered: There remaineth yet a young one, who keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said to Isai: Send, and fetch him, for we will not sit down till he come hither. He sent therefore and brought him.
Now he was ruddy and beautiful to behold, and of a comely face. And the Lord said: Arise, and anoint him, for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward."
This Jesse Tree reading is taken from 1 King chapter 17
"And as (David) talked with them, that baseborn man whose name was Goliath, the Philistine, of Geth, shewed himself coming up from the camp of the Philistines. And all the Israelites when they saw the man, fled from his face, fearing him exceedingly. And some one of Israel said: Have you seen this man that is come up, for he is come up to defy Israel. And the man that shall slay him, the king will enrich with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and will make his father' s house free from tribute in Israel.
...And Saul said to David: Thou art not able to withstand this Philistine, nor to fight against him: for thou art but a boy, but he is a warrior from his youth. And David said to Saul: Thy servant kept his father's sheep...And David said: The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.
And Saul said to David: Go, and the Lord be with thee...And he took his staff, which he had always in his hands: and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them into the shepherd' s scrip, which he had with him, and he took a sling in his hand, and went forth against the Philistine.
And David said to the Philistine: Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, which thou hast defied...And he put his hand into his scrip, and took a stone, and cast it with the sling, and fetching it about struck the Philistine in the forehead: and the stone was fixed in his forehead, and he fell on his face upon the earth.
And David prevailed over the Philistine, with a sling and a stone, and he struck, and slew the Philistine. And as David had no sword in his hand. He ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head. And the Philistines seeing that their champion was dead, fled away."
3 Kings 3:5,9-14
"And the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, saying: Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee.
Give therefore to thy servant an understanding heart, to judge thy people, and discern between good and evil. For who shall be able to judge this people, thy people which is so numerous? And the word was pleasing to the Lord that Solomon had asked such a thing.
And the Lord said to Solomon: Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life or riches, nor the lives of thy enemies, but hast asked for thyself wisdom to discern judgment, Behold I have done for thee according to thy words, and have given thee a wise and understanding heart, insomuch that there hath been no one like thee before thee, nor shall arise after thee.
Yea and the things also which thou didst not ask, I have given thee: to wit riches and glory, as that no one hath been like thee among the kings in all days heretofore. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, and keep my precepts, and my commandments, as thy father walked, I will lengthen thy days."
"Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.
But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying:
Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."
Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:26-38
"And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin' s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.
Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.
And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaias the prophet: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
And John was clothed with camel' s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost."
The ornaments can be made each day and hung one or two at a time as a countdown to Christmas or ones created in the past or purchased can be opened each day and placed on the tree. After the last Jesse Tree Ornament is hung on the tree, it is time to do the O Antiphons. Consider setting up your Christmas tree and hanging Jesse tree ornaments on it during the first week of Advent as well. Then change out the ornaments on Christmas Eve.
We hope you enjoy observing Advent with the Jesse tree as much as we do.
Tell us about your traditions and share your pictures. Let us know if you would like to hear about the typology Jesse tree in the future.
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