Olive wood carving is an ancient tradition in Palestine. Olive wood in Bethlehem is a local raw material that is used for carving religious, historical and artistic works and souvenirs such as olive wood beads and many other religious handicrafts
The tradition of making the handicrafts began in the 4th century CE under Byzantine rule in Bethlehem— which continues to be the main city that produces the craft — following the construction of the Church of Nativity. Greek Orthodox monks taught local residents how to carve Olive wood. The art developed and became a major industry in Bethlehem and nearby towns in the 16th and 17th centuries when Italian and Franciscan artisans on pilgrimage to the area taught the residents how to carve. Since then the tradition has been passed on generation by generation and is dominated by the descendants of the original local carvers.
Today, the art continues to be a major source of income mainly for Bethlehem's Palestinian Christian residents.
The olive tree is native to the Holy Land where it has been cultivated since ancient times. According to historians, the first olive groves took root in the Holy Land and along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean around 4,000 B.C.
The Olive Tree has both a sentimental and religious significance to all nations and all religions. In the Old Testament, olive oil was used to anoint prophets and kings, and to light the lamps at the temple of Jerusalem, the house of God. For nourishment, healing, cleansing, lighting, and symbolic purposes, olive oil was important.
Later in the New Testament, Jesus Christ was described as the "Anointed One" the Messiah, Christians were called Nozreem or Masseheen, which in Aramic and Arabic means anointed with olive oil. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who used oil for healing.
When Jesus went to Jerusalem, he went up to the Mount of Olives where he prayed and taught his disciples the word of God. The agony of our Lord was in the midst of many of these olive wood trees in the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed asking His Father, "Let this cup pass from me but not My will but Yours be done."
Jesus Christ was arrested on The Mount of Olives that fateful night, and He ascended into Heaven from there after His Resurrection from the tomb.
In the Book of Genesis the dove sent out from the ark by Noah returned with an olive branch (Genesis 8:11). Here it became the great symbol of peace, indicating the end of God’s anger.
According to old wisdom... "The olive tree stands as a perfect personification of man's historical memory on earth. It is the tree with the highest endurance and fruitful capacity. It is the sign of peace between God and mankind.
Olive branches have come to symbolize peace, longevity, fertility, maturity, wealth and prosperity. It was a branch of olive tree that was given as first prize to the winners of the Olympic Games, symbolizing wisdom, will and virtue. Attached to the history and religion of Greece for more than 3000 years, the olive tree is part of the mythos of Greece, the legendary land.
Due to its rich color and appearance, olive wood is a particularly sought-after material for use in decorative items. The wood contains brown streaks that contrast attractively with the lighter yellow streaks of the sapwood. Olive wood takes very well to polishing, and a fine luster can be achieved.
The wood's slightly sweet smell is particularly noticeable when freshly split or when worked with tools. Items made from olive wood will generally retain this faint aroma for many years.
A little more about Olive Wood from Bethlehem