Wood-carving started in Bethlehem in the 4th century A.D. following the construction of the Church of the Nativity when Greek Orthodox monks taught local residents this craft. The art-work developed over the centuries and became a cottage industry in many Bethlehem homes and in nearby towns, including Beit Sahour and Beit Jala.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Italian and Franciscan artisans on a pilgrimage taught the local artisans the finer points of this craft. Since then, the tradition has been honed and developed, and it has been passed on from generation to generation after the original local carvers.
Today, this art remains the main product of the city of Bethlehem and is a major source of income for Christian families. It is mostly geared to the tourist and pilgrim visitors of the Holy Land.
Olive wood is carved into crosses, boxes, picture frames, Bible covers, candle holders, rosaries, urns, vases, Christmas ornaments as well as scenes of the Holy Family.
Raw materials consist of pruned olive tree branches which are supplied from olive groves in nearby villages as well as from distant regions of the Holy Land.