Advent: The Jesse Tree

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah Chapter 11 verse 1

What is a Jesse tree?

A Jesse tree shows Jesus' family tree and is linked to the prophecy in Isaiah about the branch growing out of the stump of Jesse.

Jesse is shown at the bottom of the tree with his son King David above him. Above David is his son Solomon and at the top are Mary and the Christ Child. The rest of the tree might include the prophets, Old Testament figures or stories that point to the coming Messiah.

The earliest known example is in a Bohemian manuscript, the Vysehrad Codex dated 1086. Jesse trees were also popular during the medieval period.

There are many examples in stained glass, sculpture and illuminated manuscripts - the best known of these early ones are the Lambeth Palace Bible (1140-1150) and the window in Chartres (1145-1150). There are also more recent Jesse Trees, including modern ones in St Andrew's Church, Swavesey, Cambridgshire and St James' Church, Milton, Portsmouth.

The Jesse Tree in church

The Jesse tree used in churches is usually an actual tree.

We have used ones made from branches, copper piping, prayer trees and bauble holders!

During Advent pictures and symbols are added to the tree, which tell the Old Testament story leading up to Christmas. These are accompanied by short readings from the Bible that point the way to Jesus the Messiah.

The Jesse tree can also be used at home, adding a symbol, picture or text for each day of Advent. It is possible to buy wooden Jesse tree symbols but you can make your own out of card or felt.

We did this as a whole congregational activity during our All Age service and our pre-school group, creating symbols and pictures for the Old Testament stories that they knew.

You can download a PDF of Jesse tree symbols: here

Jesse tree symbols




God:                        dove (at the top)
Adam and Eve:      apple/snake
Noah:                      rainbow/ark
Abraham:               tent/field of stars
Isaac:                       ram
Jacob:                      ladder
Joseph:                   multicoloured coat
Moses:                    burning bush/tablets
Miriam:                   tambourine/music
Joshua:                    ram's horn




Deborah:                  palm tree
Gideon:                    clay water jar
Ruth:                         sheaf of corn
Jesse:                        branch
Samuel:                    crown/lamp
David:                       six pointed star/harp
Solomon:                  temple/scales
Elijah:                        fire/stone altar
Isaiah:                       fire tongs/hot coal
Jonah                        whale




Daniel:                     lion
Nehemiah:              city wall
Micah:                     Bethlehem
Mary:                       lily
Elizabeth:                mother and child
Zechariah:               pencil and tablet
Joseph:                    carpenter's hammer
John the Baptist:   scallop shell
Jesus:                       baby in the manger
Shepherds:              sheep
Magi:                        three crowns

We have also included photos of the current congregation on the tree to show that Jesus' family goes on for ever...