Tree of Life

Artist: 
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
In the first centuries after Jesus’ death, he was never depicted suffering on the cross. When artists finally began depicting him on the cross, he was shown either in a peaceful repose or as a king in glory. Other medieval crosses were studded with precious jewels. A third type of cross was the Tree of Life, filled with vegetation and harkening back to the Green Man revered in the old religions of northern Europe. Realistic crucifixes that graphically depict Jesus in his death throes were an innovation of the late Middle Ages.

In this icon Jesus is the Tree of Life. He shines at the center of four arms that stretch to the four sacred directions -- reminiscent of the Native American medicine wheel. He is the center of creation. Exotic vegetation coils from him, or towards him, depending on one’s perspective. He is the fulfillment of the ancient Green Man of old Europe, as well as the vine spoken of in John’s Gospel. 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.

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