Skip to comments.A CHRISTMAS TRADITION IN ROME: THE STREET CLEANERS NATIVITY SCENE
Posted on 12/31/2009 7:27:02 AM PST by NYer
A CHRISTMAS TRADITION IN ROME: THE STREET CLEANERS NATIVITY SCENE
A must-visit presepe or nativity scene is that built by Romes Netturbini or street cleaners of AMA, the municipal waste management company. Located just minutes from St. Peters Square on a small side street, Via dei Cavalleggeri, this is actually open all year around. Many have called this the Popes presepe over the years as Pope John Paul visited the AMA manger all but the last two years of his 26-year pontificate.
Other visitors have included Pope Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and a succession of Romes mayors and Italian politicians. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of State, visited this nativity scene today when the newest edition was inaugurated.
Tucked away in an ex-storeroom on a side street near St Peters basilica, you can easily think you are mistaken when you walk up to the building in a setting that is so humble and unpretentious that anyone not in the know would walk right past. The entrance, in fact, is a doorway leading into a courtyard that houses an unprepossessing block of premises belonging to AMA. There are, however signs on nearby streets that lead the visitor to this site.
The crib scene is an extraordinary work of craftsmanship, and was the brain child of Giuseppe Ianni, an ex-AMA employee, now retired. Every year since 1972 when he built the first nativity scene, Ianni has added new features houses, bridges, an aqueduct here and there. His work mirrors that of many other entities such as firemen, policemen and the like to make their own manger scenes, or presepi, at Christmas. Each and every one merits a special visit.
Like so many Roman presepe, be they in churches or homes, public squares or businesses, the AMA manger scene is an incredibly imaginative representation of the town of Bethlehem, perhaps of any Judean hill town at the time of Jesus. The AMA town, however, also incorporates a number of Roman monuments and aqueducts and has been set inside a grotto.
The buildings are all constructed in masonry and can withstand the weight of three men. The manger scene, which in 1972 was only a small hamlet of few houses at the back of the current grotto, has grown greatly over the years as Ianni painstakingly added more and more elements.
The entire town now consists of more than 100 houses that blaze with individual lights representing hearth fires and oil lamps glowing behind doors and shutters, all accomplished through the after-hours work done by a team of electricians led by AMA fellow-worker Gabriele Tassotti who completed the complex wiring job involving over 100 light bulbs.
The houses are complete, down to the tiniest detail and were built in the style typical of ancient Palestine, replete with doors, hearths, balconies, windows and smoking chimneys. There are 160 feet of winding streets in cobblestones, four rivers, crossed by seven bridges, flow for a total of 40 feet through the town. Two of these feed a 50-foot-long Roman aqueduct that snakes through the heart of the composition, to which was added a new aqueduct in 2008. The first aqueduct is made of marble pieces from Berninis colonnade of St Peters which were discarded when it was restored in 1999. Other marble fragments were used to build many of the 870 stone steps connecting the cobbled streets and houses.
There is also a well with real water and five other water sources, two humid walls with stalactites, and 24 small grottoes and caves carved into the walls. There are 700 figures of people, 165 sheep, 7 camels, 4 donkeys, 2 cows and 1 dog.
The stall where we find the Holy Family is wonderful. Sign. Ianni told me that the crib in which lies Baby Jesus is made from the very tips of the brooms used by Romes street cleaners today and the doors to the manger have been made out of olive wood from Bethlehem. (I will have to post a photo of the manger at another time the one I took this evening of the manger did not download to my computer and when I checked I saw many others did not download either. I do not have time to fix that now so will post more photos after Christmas when Baby Jesus and His crib are in the manger scene).
AMA in 2008 added stones to a wall that depict the genealogy of Jesus which leads right up to the manger scene from start to finish to Joseph and Mary.
In many ways, one of the most fascinating parts of this presepe is the concrete base, the foundation of the entire village. This is covered with over 1,900 different stones brought by some of the two million visitors from all over the world. Here is a sliver of that wall:
A hundred and fifty different places are represented here, Ianni told me on a recent visit, as he pointed out the names written beneath each little stone. This tradition started because people wanted to donate money, but I thought that would have profaned the spirit of the crib. I told people to bring a stone instead as a goodwill gesture for peace on earth.
If you visit, ask for Giuseppe Ianni and tell him that Joan of EWTN sent you! This nativity scene is featured on one of the Joans Rome spots we filmed in Rome for EWTN television Im guessing you have seen part of it.
You can find the AMA presepe at Via dei Cavalleggeri, 5. From December 15 to January 30, it is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., including Sundays and holidays. The rest of the year it is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays and holidays from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Admission is free.
With a B.A. in French at St. Marys College of Notre Dame, Indiana and a Diplome from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, Joan Lewis taught French for 5 years in the U.S. She moved to Rome and began an extensive journalism career, specializing in the Vatican. She was invited in 1990 to work for the newly-created Vatican Information Service in the Holy See Press Office as the English language writer and editor.
While working for the Holy See, Joan was named a member of Holy See delegations to United Nations conferences: Cairo Population Conference, September 1994; Copenhagen Social Summit, March 1995; Beijing Conference on Women, September 1995; Istanbul Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, June 1996. SheI also attended two conferences in Doha, Qatar: May 2004, Christian Muslim Dialogue and November 2004: the Doha International Conference on the Family.
Appointed Rome Bureau Chief for EWTN in the fall of 2005
Books Published: JUBILEE 2000 IN ROME, December 1999.
Honors: Dame of the Order of St. Sylvester - named by Pope Benedict on June 24, 2005 Dame of the Constantinian Order of St. George.
Extra-curricular: Member of the Board of Regents of Marymount International School in Rome.
Member of the parish council at Santa Susannas Church in Rome. The Paulist Fathers have been serving the American community here since 1922
Volunteer once a week at the Bishops Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican at the Casa Santa Maria, part of the Pontifical North American College.
Write to Joan at:
This is beautuful.
Neat. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Send him one! I bet he’ll add it to the scene. Then one day you and the family could go see it. I think that would be pretty cool.
Interesting thought! I’ll have to look at the thing in more detail to see what the scale is (and find the address ;-).
What a labor of love!
Wonderful thread, wonderful pictures.