In the Footsteps of St. Joseph: Craftsmanship in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, from the Aramaic for ‘City of Bread,’ is the place where the Child Jesus was born, but it is also an area full of olive trees. The word olive, in Greek, has the same root as the word ‘mercy.’ However, can Bethlehem, the city of the nativity, continue to exist without Christians?

“As an artisan, I decided to stay, thank God, because I have my profession,” Robert Jackman said. “I always try to protect my craft and take care of it. I never abandon it and I always give it the necessary attention in order to preserve our presence in Palestine, especially Bethlehem.”

This craft is based on olive wood production. Its history is closely connected to the Franciscan fraternity of Bethlehem, which opened special centers for teaching the art of carving starting in the 16th century. This led to the opening of shops for the creation of liturgical furnishings, creches and other manufactured goods.

“I should thank my grandfather, who started from nothing,” Mr. Jackman shared. “Then, my dad and I carried on the trade and today we are looking for new possibilities for development, in order to give pilgrims a memory that will make them say ‘I bought this beautiful wooden piece in Bethlehem.’”

From a simple wooden log, come some of Bethlehem’s most famous pieces of local craftsmanship, such as creches, crosses and Christmas decorations. Each piece represents a moment in salvation history.

Mr. Jackman explained the process of harvesting and selecting the olive wood: “After the olive harvest, there is the “cooking of the tree” that is done every year. In fact, the farmer must get rid of the excess wood. Once we have bought the raw material, we make our first selection for thickness and length, according to our requests, which are numerous: from nativity scenes to crucifixes, to Christmas tree ornaments.”

“The wood we work with always gives us hope, and we are trying to explain to the whole world that this small article, with its symbolic, religious or political meaning, helps us to resist and to stay here. Thank God we were born here with a means of supporting ourselves. God is with us telling us what we have to do.”

>>video and content courtesy of Christian Media Center