Root of Jesse (Artful Devotion)

Tree of Jesse (Chartres Cathedral) (full)
The Tree of Jesse, 12th century. Stained glass window (Bay 49), Chartres Cathedral, France. Photo: Painton Cowen.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
. . .

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

—Isaiah 11:1–5, 10

Tree of Jesse (Chartres)
The bottom panel depicts Nahum, Jesse, and Joel. This and all the following detail photos are by Dr. Stuart Whatling.
Tree of Jesse (Ezekiel, David, Hosea)
Ezekiel, David, Hosea
Tree of Jesse (Isaiah, Solomon, Micah)
Isaiah, Solomon, Micah
Tree of Jesse (Moses, Generic King, Balaam)
Moses, generic king, Balaam
Tree of Jesse (Samuel, generic king, Amos)
Samuel, generic king, Amos
Tree of Jesse (Zechariah, Mary, Daniel)
Zechariah, the Virgin Mary, Daniel
Tree of Jesse (Habakkuk, Christ, Zephaniah)
Habakkuk, Christ with the Seven Gifts of the Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, per Is. 11:2), Zephaniah

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SONG: “O Root of Jesse” | Text: Latin original from the sixth through eighth centuries, English translation from the Church of England’s Common Worship liturgy | Music by Ole Schützler (b. 1976) | Performed by the Junger Kammerchor Rhein-Neckar (Rhine-Neckar Youth Chamber Choir), under the direction of Mathias Rickert, on Advent (2014)

Latin:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

English:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

“O Radix Jesse” (O Root of Jesse) is one of the seven O Antiphons, names for Christ that are sung during Advent. (The others are O Wisdom, O Lord, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of Nations, and O God-with-Us.) Their precise origin is unknown, but their use in the eighth century is substantiated.

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Chartres Cathedral is “the high point of French Gothic art” (UNESCO) and one of my must-sees before I die. Its portals boast many exquisite figural sculptures, and its interior is renowned for, among other things, its stained glass windows. The Tree of Jesse, showing the royal lineage of Jesus, is one of three large, rounded lancet windows at the west end—the other two depicting the Life of Christ (center) and the Passion of Christ.

(Related posts: “Savior-King [Artful Devotion]”“Jesus as the Root/Shoot/Branch of Jesse”)

Chartres Cathedral with Tree of Jesse window

Lancet windows, Chartres
Photo: E. Vandenbroucque

This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, cycle A, click here.

Savior-King (Artful Devotion)

Tree of Jesse (Armenian)
Toros Taronatsi (Armenian, 1276–ca. 1346), Tree of Jesse, 1318. Ink, pigments, and gold on parchment, 10 1/4 × 7 1/16 in. (26 × 18 cm). “Matenadaran” Mesrop Mashtots‘ Institute-Museum of Ancient Manuscripts, Yerevan, Armenia (MS 206, fol. 258v).

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”

—Jeremiah 23:5–6

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SONG: “Jesus, Name Above All Names” | Words and music by Naida Hearn, 1974 | Arranged and performed by Nick Smith, feat. Liz Vice, 2015

The song’s original lyrics are:

Jesus, name above all names
Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord
Emmanuel, God is with us
Blessed Redeemer, living Word

Jesus, loving Shepherd
Vine of the branches, Son of God
Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor
Lord of the universe
Light of the world

Praise him, Lord above all lords
King above all kings, God’s only Son
The Prince of Peace, who by his Spirit
Comes to live in us, Master and Friend

Smith’s arrangement uses the first verse, plus adds this bridge:

Oh holy Lord
Praise be to your name
Oh risen Son
Hear us as we sing

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In 1318 Esayi Nch‘ets‘i (1260/65–1338), abbot of the Monastery of Gladzor in Armenia, commissioned three scribes to copy a Bible for the monastery, and T‘oros of Taron to illuminate it. The sumptuous illumination above, showing a genealogical tree sprouting from Jesse’s reclining body, serves as the frontispiece to the book of Psalms. Jesse was the father of King David and hence an ancestor of Jesus, who is enthroned at the end of the tree’s central branch, at the top of the composition. Various prophets with their scrolls are perched on the side branches. (We’ll revisit this iconography in the second week of Advent.)

In Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages, Sylvie L. Merian writes of this image,

According to Sirarpie Der Nersessian, this is the first example of a Tree of Jesse found in Armenian art; the inspiration for this image is derived from Western European manuscripts, where it was portrayed as early as the mid-twelfth century. However, T‘oros has modified the traditional Western European iconography: the top of the tree normally depicts the Virgin and Child, but in this example he has placed a youthful Christ in a mandorla holding a book in his left hand and blessing with his right. In the center of the trunk is the head of David, whereas in Western European traditions he is usually represented by a bust. In addition, T‘oros added an image of Samuel anointing the young David in the lower right, a scene not usually included with the Tree of Jesse. He also depicted the prophets and other figures seated cross-legged, a posture not commonly depicted in Western European manuscripts. (119)


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 29 (Reign of Christ), cycle C, click here.