Medieval Christmas Carving

This beautifully-carved marble fresco on a medieval church reminds me of the original meaning of Christmas, when Christ’s Mass would have been celebrated. The church where I took this picture, on Gotland in the Baltic ocean, was built before it became the norm to exchange presents, or put up a tree or burn the Yule log.

December 25 had already been identified by Sextus Julius Africanus in AD 221 as the day on which Christmas would be celebrated; it was celebrated in Rome by AD 336. The earliest mention of Christ’s Mass celebrated as a feast day was in the Chronography of 354, written for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, around the time the church on Gotland was constructed, that Christmas became extremely popular, and various liturgical celebrations of the holiday were established. Therefore, it makes sense that the events said to take place on the “original Christmas” would have been carved by the doors of the church, painted in bright, attractive colors. If you look, you can still see some of the original red paint used to decorate the story of the Christ child; even a donkey stands out, his millennia-old decoration still noticeable.

1300 AD Christmas star carving


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