AmericanCatholic.org
 
Skip Navigation Links
Home
Catholic News
Saints
Seasonal
Special Reports
Movies
Shopping
Donate
Share:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
LinkedIn
Email
RSS Feeds

advertisement

Wood Carvers of Bethlehem View Comments
By Lori Erickson

Elia Sway, a Palestinian Christian, carries on his family’s tradition of creating olive-wood carvings. Sway learned the art from his grandfather.
SINCE THE EARLY 1940s, members of the Sway family of Bethlehem have been carrying on a tradition with deep spiritual roots. Here in the town where Jesus was born, olive-wood carvings have long been crafted both as a biblical teaching tool and as a source of income in an economically distressed part of the world.

Using wood pruned from local olive trees, over the decades the Sway family has skillfully carved a wide range of figures: kindly Josephs, beatific Marys, regal camels, humble shepherds, and tiny infants that represent the humbling of God into human form.

“We tell the Nativity story in a way everyone can understand,” says Elia Sway, a Palestinian Christian who learned his skills from his grandfather. He now works with his son Iyad in a workshop attached to their home, a short distance from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

While Christians around the world set up small crèches in their homes each Christmas, carved figures from Bethlehem carry a special resonance and meaning. In addition to being made in one of the holiest sites in Christianity, olive-wood carvings from the Holy Land have other symbolic associations.

The Bible is full of references to olive trees, from Jesus praying under an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane to Noah receiving an olive branch from a dove as a sign the great flood had receded.

Olive-wood carving has been an honored craft in Bethlehem for many centuries. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, visited the Holy Land in the fourth century and directed that churches be built on the major sites associated with Jesus’ life.

In Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity was constructed over the grotto that local tradition associated with the birth of Jesus. Monks came to live in the area and taught local craftsmen how to make figures that could be used to teach the biblical story. In doing so, of course, the artisans followed the example of Jesus, who also knew his way around a woodshop.

1
2
3
4
5
6


Lori Erickson is a freelance travel writer with a love for writing about spiritual sites around the world.

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus



Our Lady of Sorrows: For a while there were two feasts in honor of the Sorrowful Mother: one going back to the 15th century, the other to the 17th century. For a while both were celebrated by the universal Church: one on the Friday before Palm Sunday, the other in September. 
<p>The principal biblical references to Mary's sorrows are in Luke 2:35 and John 19:26-27. The Lucan passage is Simeon's prediction about a sword piercing Mary's soul; the Johannine passage relates Jesus' words to Mary and to the beloved disciple. </p><p>Many early Church writers interpret the sword as Mary's sorrows, especially as she saw Jesus die on the cross. Thus, the two passages are brought together as prediction and fulfillment. </p><p>St. Ambrose (December7) in particular sees Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the cross. Mary stood fearlessly at the cross while others fled. Mary looked on her Son's wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary did not fear to be killed but offered herself to her persecutors.</p> American Catholic Blog For mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as it were love’s second name. —Blessed John Paul II

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
Spiritual Questions, Catholic Advice
Father John's advice on Catholic spiritual questions will speak to your soul and touch your heart.
Four Women Who Shaped Christianity
Learn about four Doctors of the Church and their key teachings on Christian belief and practice.

Padre Pio
New from Servant! “It is always a joy to read about Padre Pio, and one always comes away a better person.” —Frank M. Rega, OFS
Adventures in Assisi
“I highly recommend this charming book for every Christian family, school, and faith formation library.”
—Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle, EWTN host
New from Servant Books!
Follow Jesus with the same kind of zeal that Paul had, guided by Mark Hart and Christopher Cuddy!

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Our Lady of Sorrows
Mary looked on her Son's wounds with pity but saw in them the salvation of the world.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Today’s feast commemorates the fourth-century establishment of the cross as an object of veneration.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Tomorrow’s feast commemorates the fourth-century establishment of the cross as an object of veneration.
Holy Name of Mary
Mary always points us to God, reminding us of God’s infinite goodness.
9/11 Memorial
May we never stop praying for God's healing and God's peace.

Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic


An AmericanCatholic.org Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2014