The Jesse Tree is a visual way of tracing the family tree of Christ back through the Old Testament. It also usually includes the prophets who spoke in advance of the coming of the Messiah, which is the Hebrew word for Christ.
The idea is based on a passage from the book of Isaiah (11:1-10), which foretells that a new ‘branch’ would grow out of the family tree of Jesse. Jesse, pictured above, was the father of the famous King David. Isaiah said that from this branch a royal child would one day arise to rule over the nations (Isaiah 9:1-7; Romans 15:12).
In the New Testament, this royal child is identified as Christ (Revelation 22:16). The family tree of Christ is drawn from two passages in the gospels, Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-28. Both of them describe how Christ was descended from both Jesse and King David.
The Jesse Tree theme was very popular in the Middle Ages. At that time, many stained glass windows were produced to bring the image to life. At the base of the tree, Jesse was often pictured asleep (as above). Some famous examples exist in the cathedrals of Chartres (France), Cologne (Germany) and Wells (England). Nowadays, the Jesse Tree is often used as a ‘biblical Advent calendar’.
In this series, we’ll follow this Advent tradition for the month of December. This article includes 25 individual images and reflections to help you prepare for Christmas, day by day. We’ll look at 16 of Christ’s ancestors from the Old Testament, including four kings, seven prophets and three of his family from the New Testament. All of the images are found in Catholic churches from across Great Britain.
All quotations are from the New Catholic Bible.