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treeoflife.jpg (17449 bytes)
Tree of Life

In the first centuries after Jesus’ death, he was never depicted suffering on the cross. When later artists began to represent him on the cross, he was shown in a peaceful repose or as a king in glory. Medieval crosses were often studded with precious jewels. Another type of cross was the tree of life, filled with vegetation which harkened back to the Green Man revered in the old religions of northern Europe. Realistic crucifixes that graphically represent Jesus in his death throes were an innovation of the later Middle Ages.

In this icon, Jesus is the Tree of Life. He shines at the center of arms that point to the four sacred dirctions, reminiscent of the Native American medicine wheel. As the Tree of Life, he is the center of creation. Exotic vegetation coils from him, or toward him, depending on one’s perspective. He is shown as the fulfillment of the ancient Green Man of old Europe, as well as the vine spoken of in the Gospel of John. He is the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the pole of the universe, upon which shamans and other mystics travel to experience the divine. Having become part of creation, and unjustly executed, he is the advocate of all those who have been trampled underfoot. Slain on the cross, but risen, he declares that God’s greatest miracle is to bring life and light even out of injustice and death.

"Tree of Life" courtesy of and Br. R. Lentz ofm. Reproductions available from Trinity Stores •