Pope Francis receives Israeli artwork depicting Jesus

Israeli artist Nilly Shachor found a formation of branches that look like crucified Jesus, so she took it home and enhanced it.

 Prof. Dina Porat gives Pope Francis a photo of an Israeli artwork of Jesus on the cross made of branches. (photo credit: PROF. DINA PORAT)
Prof. Dina Porat gives Pope Francis a photo of an Israeli artwork of Jesus on the cross made of branches.
(photo credit: PROF. DINA PORAT)

An impromptu artwork made from a formation of branches by an Israeli artist found its way to Pope Francis who considered it a very special gift.

When artist Nilly Shachor from Moshav Sde Warburg near Kfar Saba was walking in the fields near her home recently, she tripped and fell. When she got up, she saw that she had tumbled on some branches that lay on the ground in an unusual formation, reminding her of Jesus – two branches spreading sideways like human arms, a disheveled head and long thin legs. Even a wreath of thorns was in place on his head. Shachor took the branches home, cleaned them and embellished the wreath with some more twigs and thorns.  

She called it “Jesus from the Soil of the Holy Land,” which was conceived almost accidentally.

Shachor called her friend, Emeritus Prof. Dina Porat from the Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archaeology at Tel Aviv University (TAU), who was planning to attend an international conference on antisemitism in Rome a few days later. “Nilly sent me a photo of the unusual composition and asked, half-jokingly, if perhaps I could meet Pope Francis and bring him a very special gift from the soil of the Holy Land,” recalled Porat. 

Accepting the challenge, Porat framed the photo in gold and called an old friend, Father Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, who immediately agreed to help.

Penitents place a statue of Jesus Christ on top of a float during the Palm Sunday procession of the ''Estudiantes'' brotherhood in Oviedo, northern Spain (credit: REUTERS)Penitents place a statue of Jesus Christ on top of a float during the Palm Sunday procession of the ''Estudiantes'' brotherhood in Oviedo, northern Spain (credit: REUTERS)

How did the artwork get to the pope?

“When I arrived in Rome, my friend Norbert said that the next day, like every Wednesday, the pope would hold the general audience in which he greets visitors and that it had been arranged for us to sit in the VIP section, right next to the stage,” recounted Porat. “It was a very exciting event. Thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, the Vatican's large plaza, sang songs and merrily waved their flags. 

The pope came near and shook people’s hands. When he approached Porat, she offered him the gift and surprised the pontiff when, speaking Spanish – both she and the pope were born in Buenos Aires – she told him the unique story of the artwork “Jesus from the Soil of the Holy Land.” Receiving the work from her hands, Pope Francis thanked the TAU Jewish studies scholar wholeheartedly, saying that it was “a very special gift.”

He was moved, said the TAU scholar, and “he asked his attendants to safeguard the artwork. It was a very meaningful experience for me, and I hope that ‘Jesus from the soil of the Holy Land’ is now displayed on a wall somewhere in the Vatican.