ITA-SICILY-L ArchivesArchiver > ITA-SICILY > 2004-12 > 1103362763
Subject: Italian Presepio, Crib, Nativity Scene,Mangers, Creche: St.Francis of Assisi
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2004 04:39:23 EST
The ANNOTICO Report
The building of Presipios started in 1223, by Saint Francis of Assisi, where
in a natural cave, in the town of Greccio, he prepared a straw -filled
manger, complete with animals. It spread to other countries and grew in complexity
that reached the heights of splendor and intricacy In the late 1700's.
Many of these Presipios are considered Art Treasures. Some are on permanent
display in museums, or are reassembled at Christmas-time in the great
churches of Italy.
In Italy the style and materials used in creating the manger was
characterized by geographical origin and historical periods.
The Sicilian presepe, for instance, featured materials such as coral, ivory,
bone, mother-of-pearl, alabaster, and other sea materials, while the Roman
presesepe reproduced the typical landscape of the Roman country, including
pine and olive trees and the ancient aqueducts.
In Napoli «fare il presepe», that is, the representation of the Holy Family,
became a true art. In 18th century Naples, for instance, the presepe became
an elaborate, dramatic scene, full of minor characters with its own
conventions that have little to do with the Biblical story.
These intricate scenes, with figures in wood or terracotta made by leading
sculptors, were destined not for churches but for the houses of wealthy
Today that tradition lives on in Via San Gregorio Armeno. In the center of
Naples, this narrow street, which runs past the 16th century Benedictine
convent of the same name, is crowded with hundreds of artisan workshops with
colorful window displays and stalls overflowing with Nativity scenes.
Also in Naples at the Museo Nazionale di San Martino is "Il Presepe
Cuciniello", a monumental collection from the 1700's that includes shepherds, angels,
In modern Italy there are living presepe, in which actors and animals
recreate the Nativity scene, exhibitions with hundreds of crèches and mechanized
figurines, and museums devoted solely to presepe.
In Vatican City there is an enormous nativity scene in Piazza San Pietro
erected for the Christmas season.
For those collectors of nativity figurine, there are online specialty
stores. Consider constructing your own crèche, or, in the spirit of the season,
help a youngster build his first presepe. The tradition of crèches in Italy
exemplifies a culture rich in artistic patrimony, and provides insight into
Italian religious, linguistic, and storytelling history.
As we have seen the Presepios vary in different regions, there is also a
distinct difference between the Italian and the Italian American Presepios.
In Italy, the religion, society and culture are united. In America, all the
parts are there, but there is a disconnect, partly due to the Church/State
But in both Italy and America, the individual "creativity" is as much a part
of the pleasure as recreating parts of the original theme.
ITALIAN MANGER, PRESEPIO, CRIB, NATIVITY SCENE
It was the winter of 1223. Christmas was coming, and a man named Francis was
busily preparing a novel celebration near Assisi, high in the snow-covered
Umbrian hills. He was the creator of the first live nativity scene. Francis
was later known as Saint Francis – the patron saint of Italy.
And his modest little reenactment of the Gospel story grew into a Christmas
tradition beloved not only in Italy, but in many other countries around the
world. It is called a crèche in French, nacimiento in Spanish. In Italian, it
is the presepio, meaning "manger" or "crib."
The participants in the first live presepio enjoyed it so much that they
repeated it year after year. Soon other towns took it up – and the custom
spread. And someone, somewhere, had the idea of creating a presepio using small,
carved figures. One of the earliest known manger scenes of this type appeared
around the end of the 1200s, in Rome’s Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It
still exists today.
At first, the scenes were simple and included only the Babe, Joseph, and
Mary. Figures were usually crude, made of wood or clay. In the mid-1600s, the
nobility became captivated by the presepi. The best artists available were
commissioned to produce mangers, but now they were no longer merely Nativity
groupings. Other Biblical tales were added, and the background began to portray
typical Italian scenes, complete with bustling, crowded streets, or
The Spanish Prince Charles of Bourbon became king of Naples in 1734, as
Charles IV. He was fascinated by the miniature reproductions and enjoyed
designing elaborate settings for them. Some say he even carved a few of the figures
himself. His queen, Maria Amalia, sewed exquisite costumes for the figures
with her own hands, as did her ladies in waiting. They used lace and rich
fabrics, real jewels, and gold and silver.
By the late 1700s, the Neapolitan presepi reached heights of splendor and
intricacy that have never since been equaled. Noble lords and ladies visited
each other’s houses to compare the lavish productions. A manger sometimes would
occupy an entire room or even sprawl into adjacent rooms. The settings and
figures were objects of religious devotion, to be sure, but they were also
The figures were completely realistic, down to the last wrinkle or wart,
tiny vegetable or fruit, lantern or musical instrument. Each small human was
dressed according to occupation or rank and in the fashion of the times: from
great ladies and gentlemen down to the humblest villager. Men sat in a tavern
drinking wine and twirling spaghetti on forks. Housewives haggled with vendors
or wearily swept their doorsteps. Animals wandered amiably through the
streets, a donkey lay down and rolled in the grass, a cow scratched with her hind
Real waterfalls tumbled down rocky hillsides, and fountains gushed real
water. In some presepi, Mount Vesuvius could be seen erupting in the background.
So cleverly put together were the panoramas that it seemed as though the
figures actually moved, breathed, sang, argued, ate, and drank. The scenes were
fantastic and exuberant – vividly authentic reproductions of Neapolitan life,
and masterpieces of the sculptor’s art.
Fortunately, many of those magnificent, centuries-old presepi may still be
seen. Some are on permanent display in museums or are reassembled at
Christmas-time in the great churches of Italy. King Charles’ splendid exhibit, with
1,200 individual pieces, is in the Royal Palace of Caserta.
In Rome, one of the most impressive Christmas cribs may be visited at the
Basilica of Saints Cosmos and Damian, near the Coliseum. It was created more
than 200 years ago in Naples. Forty-five feet long, twenty-one feet wide, and
twenty-seven feet high, it contains hundreds of hand-carved wooden figures.
Rome has the most famous Christ Child, too, the revered Santo Bambino, in
the Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. The little image is encrusted with
precious jewels; its lifelike coloring is supposed to have been added by angels’
hands. According to legend, a monk carved it of wood from the Mount of Olives
in the Holy Land. The figure is believed to have miraculous healing powers.
Once it was stolen, the story goes, but managed to return all by itself,
waking up the friars by ringing the church bells and knocking loudly on the door.
Supposedly, the small figure scolded them for having been so careless.
In Maranola, a small town near Formia, the live nativity scene is reenacted
twice during the Christmas holidays. ITT provides tours for the community. Don
’t miss this opportunity.
Fleisher Art Memorial Neapoltan Presepio Installation in Philadelphia
Creche Herald- Location of Creches In