Skip to comments.The Origin of Nativity Scenes
Posted on 12/23/2010 8:51:26 PM PST by Salvation
... Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged.
According to St Luke the Evangelist (2,7) Jesus was born in a stable or at least in a place where animals were kept. In fact the word presepio (Nativity Scene) comes from the Latin verb praesepire (to enclose, to hedge, to fence) and today it means manger or crib.
The term is thought to have been used for the first time with regard to St Mary Majors Basilica on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, known since the 7th century as Sancta Maria ad praesepe because according to tradition it was here the that the relics of the Cradle of Jesus were brought.
The Low Latin word cripia, meaning manger, was the origin of the terms creche, crib, krippe, krubba, szopka and wertep meaning Nativity Scene respectively in French, English, German and Swedish, Polish and Russian.
An encyclopedia describes the Presepio as a three dimensional representation of the birth of Jesus Christ, composed of mobile figures arranged according to the artistic sense of the builder as well as realistic elements such as houses, rocks, plants etc, which is prepared for Christmas and removed by the 2nd February. As such the Presepio is closely related to the theatre because it intends to render an event remote in time and space present and real by means of fiction of a spectacular nature and at the same time, like the theatre, it cannot be separated from the scenery: in fact without scenery around the figures representing the holy event, you have a model of the Nativity but not a Presepio.
With time the tradition of the Presepio evolved in various phases. It was first found in churches, and this was the ecclesiastical period. The figures at first painted and then carved, were placed at side altars and chapels specially reserved for the Presepio, and during the Christmas Season the Presepio was decorated with lights and flowers.
Later came the aristocratic period in which the tradition of a Presepio in the home became popular among the nobility and Nativity Scenes were ever richer and more pretentious, but also highly artistic. This tradition gradually extended to all the social classes acquiring an typically popular character which it retained.
While some scholars see the pro-genitors of the Presepio, in votive statues representing the Lares, divinities of agriculture or spirits of ancestors originally worshipped at crossroads and later with Penates as household gods revered as guardians of the home worshipped in conjunction with Vesta (Roman mythology), in actual fact the earliest representation of the Nativity can be seen in a fresco found in the catacombs of St Priscilla, 2nd century AD, portraying the Mother and Child, the Three Wise Men and Saint Joseph or perhaps the prophet Isaiah, and above a star with eight points.
In later centuries, until about the 5th century more frescoes of the Epiphany were painted in different catacombs. A fresco found in catacomb of St Sebastian shows a sort of manger with the ass and the ox, but Mary and Joseph are not seen.
Later in the 4th and 5th century in bas-relief work on marble sarcophagi the figures of shepherds began to appear and gradually the Presepio came to resemble the present day form with all the figures, the Child, Mary and Joseph, the ass and the ox the Three Wise Men and the shepherds. However this was only bas-relief work, and later painted windows, miniatures, mosaics, not yet the three dimensional representation we know as the Presepio today.
In this sense scholars agree that the oldest Presepio in Italy is a Nativity Scene in marble attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio around 1289. Although some of the figures were broken or lost, this Presepio can still be seen today in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. Up to 1870 many Popes came here to celebrate Christmas Mass.
Tradition attributes to Saint Francis the merit of introducing the Presepio to the vast cycle of Christmas customs, when, at Christmas 1223 in the village of Greccio near Assisi, as we are told by St Bonaventure, he took a manger and filled it with hay, tied an ass and an ox near it and with a crowd of people from all over the neighboring countryside attended the celebration of Mass in front of the crib.
However, in Greccio there were none of the figures of the Nativity in Bethlehem, none of the characters, Mary, Joseph, the Child, so that rather than a Presepio, the crib built at Greccio can be seen as a development of Christmas liturgical ceremonies, which reconnect with the mysteries, sacred dramas in the vulgate having as their subject episodes of the Old and New Testaments, and dialogued and dramatised lauds, expressions of lay religiosity of the Confraternities, diffused at that time especially in Umbria and Tuscany. From the 14th century onwards these religious representations became ever more lavish, with the addition of mobile puppets, that some consider the forefathers of our present day crib-figures.
The progressive degeneration of liturgical drama, ever more heathen if not evil, led the Church to prohibit them at the Council of Trier (Germany) and to encourage in their place a static re-figuration of the Nativity, and therefore the Presepio, contributing to its ulterior diffusion.
The earliest Presepio or Nativity Scenes in Italy date to the 1300s although actually these were figures in marble, wood or terracotta permanently exposed all the year round in a side chapel and until the 16th century the Presepio remained as such. To mention a few, a Presepio carved in wood in 1330 for the Poor Clare Sisters at the Convent of Saint Clare in Naples; another famous Presepio in wood at Rivolta dAdda (Cremona) dated 1480 of the school of Alemanno; a terracotta Presepio found in the Franciscan church at Busseto (Parma) the work of Guido Mazzoni.
Ambrogio della Robbia is said to be the author of a Nativity Scene in polychrome terracotta found at the church of the Holy Spirit in Sienna; no less important is a Adoration of the Child by Andrea della Robbia found at the Convent of Verna (Arezzo).
In Puglia and Lucania the Presepio had its greatest development in the 16th century, thanks to artists such as Stefano da Putignano to whom we owe, among other things, two Presepio in stone one at Cassano, the other at Polignano a mare (Bari), and Altobello Persio, author of the Presepio preserved in the Cathedral of matera.
The Council of Trent
When the Council of Trent, which closed in 1563, issued precise norms for devotion to the saints and relics it encouraged the diffusion of the Presepio as an expression of popular piety. The Jesuits, a new Religious Order constituted precisely during that Council, took over the tradition almost monopolizing it: in their hands the Presepio served for didactic purposes to win back reformed Christians and evangelise in the recently discovered lands of the New World.
The Presepio, Catholic and Mediterranean, counteracted the Christmas tree, Protestant and Nordic, started by Martin Luther; moreover the Jesuits imposed their taste for ornamental profusion and distanced it increasingly from its original Franciscan simplicity. The 17th century saw the appearance and development of scenic effects which revolutionized the Presepio. Nativity Scenes became a mirror for the culture which produced them, reflecting the society of the day and the most vivacious aspects of daily life with traits of intense realism: they were enriched with unusual and exotic elements and spectacular scenery, displaying inventive imagination typical of Baroque.
At this time the Presepio began to step out of churches to enter patrician, bourgeois homes as an object of luxury interior decoration, mounted and remounted differently year after year.
The large statues were replaced with wooden figures sometimes partly of straw with head and limbs in terracotta, wax or wood adorned with sumptuous clothing, fostering private Presepio, which had none of the monumentality and immobility proper of Nativity Scenes in churches.
The baroque Presepio reached its highest artistic expression in the Neapolitan Presepio, which influenced, albeit with natural regional differences, the Presepio in Sicily, Genoa and Rome.
Apart from the persisting baroque splendor of 17th century Presepio in Naples, Sicily and here and there in Genoa, in other regions of Italy in the 18th century the Presepio was simpler, less spectacular and closer to the historic reality, with figures mainly in wood, carved in South Tyrol, and in polychrome terracotta in Lombardy and Romagna; there was also a diffusion of the mechanical Presepio a real concession of the century of reason.
Moreover, during this century under the influence of materialism and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the tradition of the Presepio experienced a period of undeniable decadence. Only in the next century Romanticism, exalting the highest spiritual values, such as religious sentiment and sense of family and tradition, values expressed in the highest grade in the Presepio, brought it back into fashion although with profoundly different characteristics.
Closed for ever its great season of art, in the 19th century the Presepio, having lost its former great numbers of devotees and consequent use in churches and patrician homes, became simpler and spread to all the social classes, becoming a popular tradition with an accentuation of its elements of domestic rituality.
Inexpensive figures in clay, plaster or papier-mache were produced to satisfy the demand of an ever vaster public; artists were replaced by artisans who often used moulds and there was a repetition of old motives, without the addition of new original elements; moreover, in this century, the Presepio rediscovered that aspect of ingenuous and spontaneous popular expression forgotten in the rich baroque homes and, losing in sumptuousness, it gained in fantasy.
The tradition of the Presepio in Portugal has remote roots: representations of the Nativity were found in bas-relief on sarcophagi in the 1400, as well as in miniature bibles of the same era. However the plastic Portuguese Presepio reached maximum diffusion and highest artistic results only in the second half of the 18th century thanks to the creative genius of an Italian, Alessandro Giusti, who founded the Mafra school of barro (clay), transmitting this technique to his pupils and those who followed. Famous, among Portuguese Nativity Scenes, the ones found in Lisbon in the Cathedral and in the Museum of Ancient Art, as well as the monumental Presepio in the Estreal Basilica superior to any other in size and number of personages (more than five hundred) a masterpiece of Machado de Castro.
Most popular in Portugal, the living Presepio and Presepio in the home. On Christmas Eve before the consoada (vigil supper), the Presepio is unveiled and a large trunk of wood is placed in the hearth to burn night and day through to the Epiphany as protection from harm. The charcoal remains of the Christmas fire blessed by the Holy Child, are kept and burned during the year in times of danger to ensure protection.
Trade and communication between Spain and Italy during the Bourbon rule in Naples introduced the Presepio to the Iberian peninsula, the region of Catalonia in particular. Since that time the Presepio tradition has been restricted to large Nativity Scenes set up in churches. Figures modeled in clay, by Ramon Amadeu (1745-1821) the greatest sculpture of his day, started a school which was to influence the art of the Presepio from then onwards. Typically Italian figures found also in Spain were the heritage of Francisco Salzillo, son of a Neapolitan.
The first association of Presepio lovers, formed precisely in Spain around 1860, was short-lived. Later in 1921 in Barcelona the Asociacion de Pesebristas led to the formation of numerous such associations all over the country. Able craftsmen in various parts of the region gave rise to the Catalan School of Clay which produced authentic masterpieces, revolutionizing the centuries old style of Presepio in paper and cork, specializing in what came to be known as the historical Presepio, reproducing as faithfully as possible the scenery, environment and customs of Palestine at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Every year just before Christmas markets appear in all the main towns in Spain where people come to buy all sorts of items. There is also a tradition for children to go from home to home carrying a basket bearing a portable Presepio which they uncover as they sing Christmas carols and receive in exchange gifts and sweets.
In Provence (France), some say that Saint Francis, traditionally known as the inventor of the Presepio, followed the example of a nun known as Mother Pica who built a nativity scene in Provence, southern France in 1200. Examples of the Presepio of Provence are still found in churches in Marseilles, Aix and Avignon. However French craftsmen were certainly greatly influenced by Italian Baroque art, fashioning wooden puppet with hands and face in terracotta or wax. Presepio were built also in homes of more affluent families.
At the same time, 17th century, mechanical and talking Presepio became popular. The portable Presepio was a sort of theatre with puppets which told the Christmas story of the birth of the Saviour. However the French Revolution swept away every type of Presepio, in churches and private homes. It was only with the Concordat reached between Pius VII and Napoleon that the tradition of the Presepio returned. In the early 19th century a certain figure maker, Jean Louis Lagnel, started producing inexpensive clay statues and at the Christmas Market in Marseilles in 1803, even the poorest families could buy their clay figures and the tradition spread to the humblest of homesteads. For a long time Baby Jesus was not made of clay, considered too poor a material to portray the Saviour of the world; the Babe was fashioned out of fine wax, more precious and therefore more suited to portraying the divinity of Marys Son.
The tradition of Nativity Scenes, as part of Christmas celebrations, is very popular in German speaking countries, particular those rooted in the Catholic faith, such as Austria, Bavaria, Cologne where, in the cathedral, according to a legend there are the earthly remains of the astrologers or Three Wise Men, brought here from Constantinople by the Empress Helena. In fact such is the devotion to the Three Kings or Wise Men that still today on the eve of the Epiphany children dress up as kings and the head of the family burns incense in the home and in the stable, and the initials G M B Gaspar, Melchior and Baldassar are written over the doorway as a blessing. Many regions still keep the custom of searching for an Inn for which small Nativity Scenes are built and carried from home to home, looking precisely for somewhere to stay. In Tyrol, at Thaur, the village of the Presepio, it is the custom to visit with a guide Nativity Scenes set up in all the homes which display a sign in the window: "WEIHNACHTSKRIPPE" (Nativity Scene).
Steyr, a town northern Austria, has a very rare Presepio, the only with one mechanical figures left in Europe, also has a Baby Jesus Post Office opened in 1950 with its own Christmas Eve post mark. The post office receives and answers letters from children all over the world. The larger churches in Bavaria have permanent Nativity Scenes, to which are added diorama on the life of Jesus or scenes of the Old Testament, for periods of four to six weeks in keeping with the liturgy celebrated during the year. Many cities such as Munich, Nuermberg, Augsburg are renowned for Christmas markets. People come to buy statues for the Presepio, decorations, candles, sweets and cookies and children ride in pony drawn coaches, while musicians play the world famous Silent Night carol composed by Franz Gruber on Christmas Eve in 1818, at Oberdorf near Salzburg
In England. After the death of St. Francis, the custom of having a crib spread throughout Europe. The crib in the house also became popular by the 17th century owing much of its popularity to the enthusiasm of the Franciscans. In England, the symbol of the crib was taken further in the baking of a Christmas mince pie in an oblong shape as a cradle for the image of the infant Jesus. Every parish church has its Nativity Scene inside and some have larger ones on the outside. The crib scene in the home it is not only a reminder of the first Christmas, it is also a link with all other Christians who have celebrated the joy of the birth of Christ through the ages.
In Hungary the Presepio, called Bethlehem, is portable. It can be in the shape of a church, a stable or a little chest with curtains and varies in height from 25 to 150 cm. A candle burns in front and the doors or curtains open wide to show the figures sometimes cut out of paper, or fashioned of wood or clay and then decorated with cotton wool. The Presepio is carried from house to house by children called Bethlehemsek, some dressed as angels, who sing and dance.
In Russia the Presepio, called Wertep, consists of a neo-classical style chest with two levels decorated with a Christmas Star and animated with puppets. The story is told while the people admire the scenes portrayed. The upper level shows the religious scene: the adoration of the Magi, the massacre of the Holy Innocents and the death of Herod. The lower floor offers amusing scenes of daily life which are very popular. It would seem that the texts for the Wertep were written by students of Kiev Academy, who were very familiar with the tastes and customs of the ordinary people. The Wertep gained in popularity, spreading from Ukraine, to Little Russia then to Belo-Russia, Siberia and eventually to Moscow.
In Poland the Szopka is built in the shape of a cathedral and decorated with silver-paper of different colors. It has three parts: the upper level shows angels blowing trumpets and announcing the birth of Jesus, the center level shows the Nativity scene and the lower level shows Polish peasants, shepherds with sheep and oxen, and the Three Wise men. Portable Szopke are carried from house to house by children who sing carols called Colende, and receive chocolate and money in return.
In Slovenia, since early 19th century the Alpine peoples have a traditional Family Presepio. In the living room of every farmhouse there is a Holy Corner with a shelf on which, during the year, the family Crucifix stands. At Christmas time the shelf is covered with moss to make a hill with the town of Bethlehem on its crest and the stable with the Nativity scene at its foot. The scene is held in place with a special decorated board about 70cm long and 35cm high. It is thought that initially this was simply a womans headscarf or shawl, which was then later replaced with a richly embroidered board.
In Latin America, having put aside every aspect of refined art, the Presepio took on decidedly folkloristic art which emphasized blue skies and shining sun, since in these countries Christmas falls in mid Summer and Presepio are often built in the open, in gardens or patios and are decorated with all sorts of cacti.
In Mexico the Presepio is one of the most authentic expressions of typical Indian craft-work sold at every village market and which, from 1500 onwards, was enriched by the influence of European and Asian settlers. Spanish rule brings with it Iberian art which overshadows that of the Maya and Aztec peoples as we see in statues still extant in the Presepio of San Miguel di Allende and wax Presepio figures belonging to old noble families of Spanish descent.
In Brazil, the Presepio was diffused between 1600 and 1700, by the Jesuits and by missionary priests from Portugal, Spain and France, who came to evangelize the native Indians. Although it is said that a century earlier Jose de Anquieta helped the Indians to make a Nativity Scene with figures modelled in clay. While in Europe the art of the Presepio had reached its highest forms of expression, in Brazil it was introduced and began to spread first modelled on Spanish and Portuguese Nativity Scenes and later with its own characteristics and the introduction of Indian mythological figures. In north-eastern Brazil we find the Lapinhas symbolic constructions in which Baby Jesus is dressed in cloth of gold and precious gems, set on the hill top and surrounded by flowers, plants, birds and animals of all species. Typical also the two floor Presepio with the Nativity below and above the Crucifixion scene surrounded by the favorite saints of the artist or commissioner.
In Paraguay the Presepio is set up in almost every home because there is a tradition that it protects the family from harm. A few days before Christmas the people take a wooden board on which they put a mound of humid earth where rice grains are sown which soon sprout tender green leaves. On this mount they build the scene with figures and little animals made of cotton wool and pieces of colored glass to look like rocks and stones. Then the entire Presepio is enclosed with a circle of melons, pineapples and coconut flowers. Baby Jesus is placed in the cradle but in the week of the new year, the little babe is replaced with a bigger child holding in one hand a small globe of the world and in the other a cross.
In Peru the Presepio, Sammarcos, is a sort of altar with doors painted in lively colors and which containing numerous figures and scenes, religious and non.
In Africa, the first Presepio with clay figures were brought by the missionaries. It was not easy to convince the natives that the new God became a little white baby, but at the time there was no local iconography to present the new religion in a way that Africans could understand. Only later when the newly made Christians began to produce works of art, were the missionaries able to show the natives how to build their own African Nativity Scenes, often carved in precious ivory or wood, with Three Kings dressed like local chiefs in ornate costumes adorned with hundreds of multicolored beads.
In the Far East, where missionaries created Christian oases, the Presepio flourished. Although he never became a Christian, the Ruler of the Indies Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) showed remarkable appreciation for the Presepio and freely allowed the tradition to spread throughout his vast empire.
Presepio in Tyrol, like those in most northern European countries, are generally carved in wood. During the Renaissance, figures produced by wood-carvers in Tyrol and Cologne were in great demand at the Italian courts. During the 17th century in South Tyrol, Nordic Baroque was fused with Italian elements. Figures were mainly of wood, some with moveable limbs, but also puppets with faces of wax and hats of wool or straw were produced. Neustift monastery near Brixen has a Presepio which dates to 1621. It was built at the request of Abbot Mark Hausser with twenty figures some of which are 50 cm high. Slightly damaged during bombing in World War II, it was restored and can still be admired today.
Moreover the Diocesan Museum in Brixen has forty six dioramas, mostly 18th and 19th century wood carvings and mainly the work of the Probst family. They consist of a total of some five hundred exquisitely carved figures set in backgrounds of amazing architectural harmony.
In the 19th century, besides the traditional wood, Presepio figures were also made with papier mache, paper cut-outs, stucco and wax. Famous of this period, a wooden Presepio made by Karl Sigmund Moser, acquired by the National Museum in Munich, in which an amphitheater in different styles ranging from Gothic to Rococo, reconstructs a spectacular imaginary Jerusalem.
In the region of Genoa the Presepio tradition developed later than in other regions of Italy and, as elsewhere, it was connected with the work of the Jesuit Fathers and the activity of certain confraternities with special devotion to Christmas traditions. Here, as in Naples and Sicily, the Presepio was built first of all in churches and then spread to the homes of aristocratic families.
Although complex, the Presepio in Liguria is far less pagan more in keeping with the Gospel narrative in its representation of the Mystery of Bethlehem than Nativity Scenes in other parts of Italy. The scenery is extremely simple and develops horizontally, with a singular lack of depth.
In this region, we do not find the wooden puppet with head and limbs in terracotta so popular in Naples and elsewhere. The typical Baroque Presepio in Genoa has carved wooden figures and the most famous wood carver was Anton Maria Maragliano.
After 1289, the year in which Arnolfo di Cambio worked his statues for the Basilica of St Mary Major in what is considered the very first round representation of the Nativity Scene, we have to wait for three centuries to find reliable information about the existence of Presepio in Rome. In fact in 1581 a Spanish Fransican Juan Franciso Nuno, charged with gathering information on the tradition of the Presepio in Rome, speaks of various Nativity Scenes found in churches and monasteries, particularly the Presepio at the Aracoeli Church which still draws great crowds, with its famous statue of the Holy Infant adorned with precious stones, carved, according to tradition, by an unnamed Franciscan friar out of a branch of an olive tree taken from the Garden of Olives in Jerusalem.
In Rome as in Naples, Genoa and Sicily, the Presepio spread from churches to patrician homes with artificial and spectacular constructions aimed to provoke more amazement than devotion, produced by all manner of artists including famous Bernini who made one for Prince Barberini.
18th century Presepios include a beautiful example at the Poor Clare sisters church of St Lawrence with five magnificent figures, and others in Santa Maria in Trastevere and at the convent church of Santa Cecilia. In the 19th century the Presepio spread to all levels of society with the production of inexpensive figures in terracotta. Some were built in church porches, or balconies with natural scenery and the sky as a background. One of the most visited is the Presepio built by the citys maintenance workmen, or garbage collectors, near St Peters which is visited every year by Pope John Paul II. But the most famous of all is the giant Nativity Scene built every year during Advent since 1982 at the request of Pope John Paul by Vatican workmen in St Peters Square. The figures, 18th century larger than life, were made for Saint Vincent Pallotti and donated by the Pallottine Fathers to the Pope. The Presepio is opened on Christmas eve and one of the first visitors is the Pope himself. It is taken down after the Season and the statues are carefully stored for the coming Christmas.
In Naples around the mid 16th century, medieval symbols were put aside and the modern Presepio was born. According to tradition merit goes to Saint Gaetano from Thiene who was enraptured by the mystery of Christmas and built a large Presepio with wooden figures dressed in the clothes of the times for Christmas 1534 at the Santa Maria della Stalletta oratory beside the hospital for the incurable.
After this numerous Presepio were built in churches and convents all over Naples, but it was not until the next century that the Presepio with mobile figures appeared. The first example was produced by the Scolopi Fathers for Christmas 1627. Also worthy of mention a Presepio in Santa Maria in Portico, commissioned by Duchess Orsini, and a Presepio built by the Bottega del Ceraso for the church of St Gregory Armeno. However, the golden age of the art of the Presepio in Naples was the 18th century. With Charles III in fact the city, once again the capital of an independent region, was renovated and took its place among the famous cities of Europe, experiencing a flourish of culture and art, of which the Presepio was to be one of the most splendid expressions.
It was truly a fever of the Presepio which took over the whole city of Naples in 1700, even the King. Charles III, who had a passion for mechanics and clever hands, encouraged and personally directed court architects and scenery producers as well as building himself a Presepio in the royal apartments. Queen Maria Amelia and her ladies in waiting made the clothes for the figures with material and minute patterns especially produced in the royal fabric factory at St. Leucio. Nobles and rich bourgeois families, anxious to keep up with the King, competed with their own Presepio. The most beautiful Presepio were rewarded with a visit by the King, a much sought after recognition. The citizens were allowed into noble homes to admire the costly productions .
In the typical 18th century Neapolitan Presepio, the Nativity Scene stands on a rock and is set inside the ruins of a church; the whole scene is inevitably overshadowed by the outline of the Vesuvius volcano. Other distinctive elements are a Saracen tower, a busy market, a tavern where Mary and Joseph were refused a room, but above all the Neapolitan people who crowd the scene of the Nativity, almost suffocating it with a profusion of colors and scenes, poverty and nobility, comic figures and drama, animals, local and exotic, a procession of lame, deformed and blind contrasting the rich entourage of slaves and rich gifts following the Three Magi. This varied humanity triumphs over the Gospel story, the Nativity withdraws to the background, what counts is the spectacle, farce, drama portrayed all around it.
The typical shepherd in the Neapolitan is made of straw and wire, with wooden limbs, head in polychrome terracotta and eyes in crystal. Animals, big and small, are all in wood.
A fundamental, if not dominant component of the 18th century Presepio in Naples, is the market with all manner of wares, an explosion of shapes and colors. Together with the Hosteria, another characteristic element, there is always the market with its fruit and vegetables, hams, fish, shellfish, salamis and sausages, cheeses, olives, the butchers shop with beef and pork, rabbit and game, pizza, macaroni, eggs etc. In a town as poor as Naples at that time, afflicted by insatiable hunger, this gastronomic profusion, an orgy of food, submerges the Nativity Scene and distorts it, acquiring the significance of the revenge of the people over its age old enemy hunger, the revenge of an hallucinating imaginary dream-world where hunger is no more and food is abundant for all. Almost a sort of transfer: as if once a year at Christmas time in front of the Presepio, the ragged people of Naples are completely satisfied.
Examples of 18th century Neapolitan Presepio still extant today thanks to generous donations, are found in Museums in Italy and elsewhere. The most famous and one of the largest is the Cuciniello Presepio donated to the city of Naples by author Michele Cuciniello who died in 1899. The Presepio is kept at the Museo della Certosa di San Martino, on the Vomero hill; a rival for beauty and richness of personages, is the Presepio at the Royal Palace of Caserta. Not to be forgotten the Presepio in the Museum of Avellino, another in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome, as well as Presepio collections at the National museum in Munich and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and among private collections those of the Leonetti Counts and the Catello family.
From its first appearance papier mache or cartapesta has always been a typical element of popular customs and traditions in Lecce. Although the first works in cartapesta date to the 16th century, only in the 19th century we have reliable information with regard to the school of Master Pietro dei Cristi, given this name precisely because he made religious statues and Presepio figures. At the close of the century it was mainly the barbers, short of customers, who worked with cartapesta and the barber shop was also a workshop for figures. The figures were sold at the Fair of the Puppets and Shepherds, still held in Lecce today on December 13, St Lucys Day. Cartapesta is made of paper made of rags (not containing cellulose) reduced to pulp, mixed with flour and then boiled in poisoned water to prevent paper-worm. The mixture is laid in several layers of varying thickness according to the size of the figure. The statues are modelled exclusively by hand the most delicate parts being finished off with a hot iron. When the statue is ready it is put to dry in the sun without any artificial procedure and then painted.
In Sicily, as elsewhere, the Presepio developed with the Jesuits under the direct influence of the Neapolitan model from which it differs in that it is more sober and essential, with a pronounced religious character, at times pervaded with intense drama thanks to the presence of original elements obviously derived from puppet theatre. The oldest and most famous Presepio is found in the Church of St Bartholomew at Scicli near Ragusa with painted wooden statues about 50 cm in height. In Sicily too, the Presepio became a feature of sumptuous interior decoration and a work of art. Every noble family had its Presepio with wax figures dressed in elegant clothes exposed in a sort of glass showcase during the Christmas season. Besides wax, a number of materials were used to fashion the personages: coral, copper, cork, ivory, mother of pearl, alabaster, sea shells, lava stone. Typical and exclusive, decorations with branches of orange and mandarin trees, grapes and Indian figs. Trapani was one of the towns where the production of Presepio flourished most in the 17th and 18th centuries, thanks to Giovanni Antonio mater, whose beautiful figures carved in wood, copied by many an artist, can still be seen today at Museums in Trapani, Palermo and also in Munich, in Germany.
SOURCE FOR THIS ARTICLE IS FROM FIDES SERVICES: SEE DOSSIER ON NATIVITY SCENES ALSO AT: www.fides.org
There wasn’t enough space in the upper room where the people lived. The “stable” was the lower room where Mary & Joseph stayed. The baby Jesus was laid in a manger, food trough for the animals, located in the lower room. These homes are the same today.
We need to get over the idea of a Holiday “Inn”, a stable as in a barnyard, and a manger being a baby crib.
Nativity scenes are to blame for the misconceptions that people have today.
So, in the center pic, who is that white, European, blond, curly-headed child in the lap of that well-dressed woman?
I wrote this many years ago. All I can say is, real believers don’t need creche.
A Christmas Essay
Louis J. Tonetti
KJV Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
KJV Matthew 1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
KJV Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is
Christ the Lord.
The Bible in its original manuscripts is the verbally inspired Word of God. Without changing the personalities of the individual writers, Gods Holy Spirit meticulously guided their efforts, even to the point of selecting the very words which were set forth. As with all literary works, The Bible has a theme, and everything must be related to this central topic: The Bible is all about the coming Kingdom of God. Of course, Jesus Christ is its central character and fills the pages of Scripture, but if its main idea is not realized, the book will most likely remain a garbled compendium of church stuff, simply containing principles for living as a good person. The one who studies and proclaims the Word without comprehending The Bible’s main idea will be not be presenting an accurate and completely truthful representation of what God is telling us. This is critically important to a believer, that is, one who believes on the One whom God has sent, and the record God has given us concerning this sent one. Why is sent in quotation marks? Because the Greek word for sent is apostello, which really means: commissioned with authority to do a specific work. Does the Greek word look familiar? Our English word apostle comes from it. An apostle is a commissioned one, sent to perform a specific task for a specified time period. The office of an apostle is not indefinite in duration.
No one should ever misrepresent Gods record, which is His Word, which is His Truth. Unfortunately many have done so, especially some of the King James translators. Subsequently, there are many errors and misconceptions regarding exactly what is and what is not contained in The Bible, even in the minds of believers. As an example, lets look at some misconceptions surrounding the birth of a certain babe born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. The commonly-imagined time of year when this blessed event took place is wrong. It wasnt December 25th. Evidence pointing to the correct time frame involves: the seasonal climatic conditions prevalent in the Land of Palestine; the customs and practices of shepherds at that time; and the time line reckoned from the birth of John the Baptist. Whoever is interested can discover the truth from these clues. The bottom line is that it could not have been in November or December. However, no mention will be made regarding the reasons why the early Church Fathers deliberately chose and enforced December 25th as the date on which to celebrate the birth of Jesus (the reasons would greatly upset the one who seeks the truth - can you say, Saturnalia?). Okay, I lied. I will mention that I believe the main reason for choosing this date to observe Christmas was to add some numbers to the flock. The Church Fathers often took pagan holidays and re-branded them as Church holidays in order to attract converts. Saturnalia was a popular festival in which celebrants exchanged gifts while they engaged in holiday cheer. This simply demonstrates one way mankind makes void the Word of God by its traditions. Now, lets take a look at another example, that of the crèche.
A crèche is a representation of the nativity scene portraying the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, and usually includes the newborn babe in a manger, a big star shining above, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, various animals and the Three Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Its too bad we dont have a time machine in order to go back two thousand years and observe firsthand the events which took place surrounding the birth of the Christ Child, what we commonly call the first Christmas. Then we could come back to the future as mighty warriors proclaiming the truth of what actually happened, including who was present, when they were present, why they were present, and where they were present (Sounds like a lot of Christmas presents). Well, we have something better than a time machine. We have the inspired, infallible account as set forth in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke. So, let us go also, even as the shepherds did, and see this wonderful thing that took place.
KJV Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
The first discrepancy we notice is that there was no bright star that night. Plus, there was not a Wise Man in sight. So, who was singing, We Three Kings of Orient Are? Actually, according to the internal evidence set forth in Scripture, they did not show up until about two years later, guided by the star which appeared to them in the East. Furthermore, when they finally found Him, they presented their gifts to the toddler in the house (not a stable) in Nazareth. But, why is it the generally accepted belief of most people in the world today that all of this happened at the same time and place, when the events were actually separated by a span of about two years, and which events took place in a different locale? (The birth was in Bethlehem and the Wise Men visited the child two years later in Nazareth). Place a large part of the blame on the Masters who, in their creative zeal, tried to cram too much into their paintings which depicted these things. But, is this really such a big deal? What do you think about that? Remember, it is important to be faithful in the little things, so you can be trusted to be faithful with the greater.
A more important consideration is that many people believe Jesus, Gods Son, was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and that this marked His beginning. They look upon Him with the same frame of reference as they do human father-son relationships, and they go to their graves doing so. Also, many look upon Mary as the Mother of God, and the ramifications of this particular belief boggle the mind. This is such a shame, especially since God has revealed a great deal about Himself in His Word, and desires that we should know and seek Him and His Kingdom truthfully and accurately. So, follow this thread of thought and see what you think about this babe born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
KJV Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
KJV Genesis 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
KJV Isaiah 42:5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
KJV Isaiah 43:3 For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.
KJV Isaiah 43:10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.
KJV Isaiah 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
KJV Isaiah 44:24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
KJV Isaiah 45:6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
KJV Isaiah 45:12 I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.
KJV Isaiah 45:15 Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
KJV Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
KJV Isaiah 45:21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.
KJV John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
KJV John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
KJV Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
KJV Matthew 1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
KJV Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
KJV Luke 1:47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
If the One who created all things is not God, then who or what is? If this One who is God also calls Himself the Savior, and states that there is none other besides Him, then it must be true that God is our Savior. Mary rejoiced in God her Savior (Luke 1:47), and so should we. But, wasnt it the Savior who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago? Didnt this same Jesus later on state that He is the Alpha and the Omega, that He is the great I AM, and that He always was and always will be? Isnt it also written somewhere in New Testament scripture, reflecting what was previously stated in the Old Testament, that every knee shall bow to His name? Re-reading all this information should cause one to rethink and re-regard with awe the things Jesus was claiming about Himself throughout His earthly ministry.
Therefore, submitted for your approval (or rejection): Jehovah of the Old Testament = Jesus Christ of the New Testament. He is the expression of the Living God, a projection of His divine nature, appearing on earth in the form of a man, via the form of a babe born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Acquaint yourself with Him and be at peace. Those who call themselves Jehovahs Witnesses should pay particular attention to the Isaiah passages, especially 43:10. If you are going to be a witness, be a faithful and accurate and truthful witness. Otherwise, you are a false witness, pure and simple. Thats right! I said it. Jehovahs Witnesses are indeed false witnesses. They deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
So, if you do approve, whenever people ask what is the hope of your calling, and since you are to be ready in season and out of season with your answer, dont just hand them a crèche. Tell them exactly who this babe born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago really is. Besides, real believers dont need crèche.
Louis J. Tonetti
PS An additional comment:
If Mary truly were the Mother of God, what need would she have of a savior?
KJV Luke 1:47. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
PPS An additional clue:
KJV Luke 1:26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
PPPS Okay, one more clue to go with the one above:
KJV Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. 26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
NO MORE CLUES. Use your God-given brain and figure it out for yourself!!!
**There wasnt enough space in the upper room where the people lived. **
Jose4ph and Mary were poor. There was no room for them at the inn — they couldn’t buy a room.
Beautiful. Thank you.
The Nativity: Propaganda for the Counter-Reformation
I don't think that was it at all. Joseph was a carpenter; a skilled craftsman, and likely made a decent living. They had to go to Bethlehem, which was where the descendants of David had to go to register for the Census, and it was crowded. There were no more places available to stay in town, so they had to make do. I wouldn't be surprised if many others had to make similar arrangements.
I get annoyed when the advocates for the homeless try to paint Jesus and Mary as 'homeless'; they were nothing of the sort, any more than my husband and I would be homeless if we traveled to a city, and couldn't find a hotel room.
While the tree is in the title of this poem about the observance. The center piece is the use of the creche following the early days of “Our Savior” observed leastwise by catholic familys in a Chicago neighborhood known as Bridgeport during the 1930’s and into the postwar era by this writer trilogy (myself) in
The Christmas Tree
You can’t decorate or light the tree till Chirstmas eve mother would exclaim
“Jesus wasn’t born till holy Christmas day”
So it was as we strung ,the popcorn and cranberries , on threaded line
But first the lights, testing all the bulbs, to see if they worked fine
Then we decorated tree
Lead icicles that dad would toss with glee
Silvered garlands and ornaments that grandma gave to me
A sentinel for the season a witness for all to see
Announcing the birth of Christ,
Observing the days of saga yet to be
Circumcision, Epiphany ,the Egypt flight
In home’s creche site where figurines
with solemnity installed
Those who were missed were seen throughout
or remembered on “Little Christmas”
So the paperboy,the mailman,and others
conclude Epiphany without a doubt
As Three kings passed by a week,
and nobles well upon their way
The tree was still there,
And up till The Holy Family day*
When young Jesus found in temple speaking ,
celebration fleeting ,now, On to some
very serious teaching
as the tree was taken down
EPIPHANY January 6th (12th Day of Christmas)
Epiphany On This “Little Christmas”
Once Upon a Time and not too long ago
The Twelfth Night Of Christmas
was celebrated with a ball
From the Day of Babe’s Birth
and the 11 thereafter
kith and kin were paid a visit
and friends from far and near
once were paid a call
So on this day I pray
in the spirit that this date recalls
The gifts of kings let thee gain
Be in spirit of joyous days
let the season in bosom to remain
while the days ore year
and beyond it wane
Be thine Blessings Great and misfortunes
let none befall
What is surprizing is that merchants haven’t caught on to using the day to furthur sales.Taking advantage of post “Christmas” sales this writer uses that day to give gifts. For background on Epiphany read Greek Orthodox Archdiocease piece by Rev George Mastrantonis Orthodox Epiphany Festival of Lights
*Note In the old Tridentine Catholic calandar the second sunday of January was observed as the feast of The Holy Family
Thursday, December 22
Liturgical Color: Violet