Since the dawn of existence, spiritual civilizations have been fascinated by the mysticism of olive wood. In fact, it is the first tree to be mentioned in the Bible: as the Holy Book tells us in the Genesis, a beautiful white dove descended on Noah’s Ark, in its beak carrying an olive branch. From that moment on, the olive tree became almost sacred for the Hebrews, which regarded it as a strong symbol of peace, divine power and love. The transience of time did not diminish the extraordinary meaning of this type of wood and, as a result, artists started crafting olive wood products that represent powerful Christian values. The demand for such products is very high, because they create a unique atmosphere of peace and warmth in every household. Their home is, of course, the origin of Christianity, the city of Bethlehem. Even though many spiritual enthusiasts purchase crosses, sets and statues made from this kind of wood, as a reminder of the divine power, little is known of the actual manufacturing process. An ancient and fascinating craft, it spans across generations of spiritual and talented artists who create marvelous items of a subtle beauty. Worthy of recognition and praise, the craft is extremely intricate and requires the utmost attention to detail
The ancient craft is passed on from father to son and this enduring tradition remains a main source of income in the economically challenged Bethlehem region. It all starts with the choice of wood: strong, resistant, evergreen, yet easy to carve, olive wood undergoes selection based on strict criteria. Next, machines are used to give an orientation shape to the wood chunks, a sort of rough outline that the artist can then develop into beautifully looking crosses, rosaries, boxes or statues. This time consuming step does ease the task of workers, although it only accounts for less than 20% of the process. The rough outline then goes to an expert craftsman who carves details and chisels the shape. If in the case of crosses this might be easier, when it comes to nativity scenes, for example, the work is considerable and requires a lot of precision and artistic sense. In fact, experienced artists need up to seven years of experience to create such masterpieces. The last part involves adding the final polishing touches: the wood is smoothed with special tools and then treated with olive wax, which gives its special shine and remarkable longevity.
Because the manufacturing of high quality olive wood products depends mostly on artisans, not machines, the process is rather lengthy, requiring more than a month to be completed. The result, however, is wonderful, exerting the same fascination today, as it did many centuries ago. Lost on the tiny labyrinthine streets of Bethlehem, pilgrims and tourists stop at traditional boutiques and marvel at the wooden works of art. Believers buy traditional crosses, boxes, Christmas tree decorations, vases and Bible covers, so that they can brighten up the home with the light of divine love and sacrifice.