Wood carving is one of the most enduring artforms of the Christian tradition, with beautiful examples dating back to the medieval age to be found in churches and cathedrals up and down the country. Many of the older wooden carvings in churches were painted in bright colours, but this idea had fallen out of favour by the mid 16th century.

Thankfully, many of these carvings survived the changes of the Reformation era, and Victorian architects such as Pugin and Ferrey gave them a new lease of life. One of the most celebrated wood carvers in history is Grinling Gibbons, who was born in the Netherlands in 1648, but worked mainly in England.

He worked primarily with limewood, to create finely detailed representations of religious scenes, and elaborate carvings of garlands and wreaths of fruit and flowers. Some of the most exquisite examples of his work can be seen in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Churches throughout Wales are often decorated with all manner of carved wooden angels, kings, and biblical creatures. One intriguing example is the world-famous Tree of Jesse, a representation of Christ placed beneath a commemorative window in St Mary’s Priory Church in Abergavenny.

It’s a larger-than-life size carving from a single piece of oak, and was once thought to be about 10 metres tall. The Tree is thought to date from the late 15th century, although why it was first created or commissioned is unclear, but its size is thought to represent the importance of lineage and religious devotion.

Further religious wood carvings found in St Mary’s Church include a misericord (the underside of a folding wooden seat) depicting a closed Tudor crown, and examples of symbolic patronage, such as a Tudor Rose and Prince of Wales feathers.

The tradition of wood carving is still celebrated in the country, of course. Welsh love spoons depicting various symbols of God’s favour are a popular gift to commemorate those special occasions in life.

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