CONSERVATION work on a world-famous monument in an Abergavenny church has begun.

The Jesse figure at St Mary’s Priory Church is undergoing major conservation work to ensure it is maintained for generations to come.

The wooden monument, which has only ever left the church once to go to the Tate Gallery in London and regularly features on television, sits in the north transept at the entrance to The Lewis Chapel.

Father Mark Soady, the Vicar of St Mary's Church, said the extraordinary larger-than-life figure once formed the base of an intricate and elaborate construction, which depicts the family tree of Jesus Christ from Jesse, the father of King David.

So-called Jesse figures and Jesse trees are not uncommon in stained glass. But this is the only one in wood to be found in the United Kingdom, and probably the world.

He said: “We do not know who carved it but we do know that it retains its extraordinary command of our attention and fascination.”

Carved from one solid piece of oak, probably in the 15th century, it was originally highly coloured and depicted all the Davidic kings and descendants, surmounted by the figures of Mary and the Child, and Christ in glory.

Latest thought estimates the height of the ‘tree’ growing from Jesse’s side would have been between 25ft and 30ft.

Conservator, Valentine Walsh was commissioned to carry out the project and began work last Thursday.

Father Mark said: “The work is being carried out with a matter of urgency to ensure the paint doesn’t peel off and that the structure is sound.”

“It needs tender loving care to ensure it is maintained for generations to come.”

Funded by the St Mary’s Priory Monuments Fund, set up to help maintain the large number of Medieval monuments in the church, the project is expected to cost thousands rather than tens of thousands be completed within a month.