All posts tagged crib


Published December 2, 2013 by Tony


The word “presepe” or “presepio” (crib) comes from the Latin verb “praesepire” which means “fencing with hedge.” A term used only in Italy (and in Hungary) because it was introduced in Naples in the fourteenth century, when one Anjou’s descendant became king. The tradition, mainly Italian, can be dated back to St. Francesco of Assisi who, in 1223 in Greccio, created the first living representation of the Nativity. His representation cannot be considered a crib as we currently consider it, because it was just a cave with two real animals on the sides of a trough with straw.
Statues in Basilica of Santo Stefano -  photo by  Giovanni Lattanzi www.giovannilattanzi.itThe first example of carved nativity scene is preserved in the Basilica of Santo Stefano (in Bologna), the oldest known nativity scene in the world that consists of the thirteenth century’s statues by an anonymous sculptor from Bologna.
Soon this kind of symbolism was widely understood at all levels, especially within families, where the representation of Jesus’ birth, with statuettes and elements taken from the wild, became a rite.
In the fifteenth century it became common practice to place big statues in the churches,  tradition that also spread throughout the sixteenth century. Some of these ancient statues have survived, despite many thefts, and are still on display during Christmastime.
The use of the crib started to spread in the nobles houses in the form of  knick-knacks or real chapels, although the great development of carved crèches occurred in the eighteenth century, through three different and great traditions: Neapolitan cribs, cribs from Genoa and from Bologna. In the eighteenth century, in Naples even began a competition between families over who had the most beautiful and gorgeous crib: the nobles used a whole room for represent the nativity, with statues dressed with precious fabrics and jewelry.
Although among the various Italian regions, the crib diversified for cultural reasons, from these perspective, the Italian crib’s art only differentiates for different products and materials used to recreate the nativity. Traditionally, the crib in Genova was made with wood, with papier-mâché in Puglia, while in Sicily some typical products are added, like branches of orange and mandarin, and different materials such as coral, pearl and alabaster.
The Neapolitan crib  was characterized by statuettes made with terracotta, with the use of cork to recreate the setting. Later in time, the use of clay was reduced as a result of the overwhelming success of plastic figurines, which provided large scale production at a lower price.
CiccibaccoThe Neapolitan crib scene added other popular and anachronistic characters, such as taverns, street traders and typical rural houses. Sometimes these characters are symbolic,  such as for example the tavern represented “the bad”, and the character of “Ciccibacco”, who brings barrels with wine,  represented the “devil”.
The Neapolitan crib art has remained unchanged for centuries, becoming part of the Neapolitan Christmas traditions. Famous in Naples is “San Gregorio Armeno” street,  that offers a showcase of all the local cribs crafts. In addition, there are many museums (like San Martino Museum or the Royal Palace of Caserta), where
San Martino Museum historical or very old pieces are exposed.
The first nativity scene in Naples is mentioned in a document that talks about a nativity scene in the Church of St. Maria ‘s crib in 1025 . In Amalfi, according Particular of the crib in Royal Palace of Casertato various sources, already in 1324 there was a “crib’s chapel” in  Alagni’s house.
In 1340 Queen Sancha of Aragon (wife of Robert of Anjou) gave to the Poor Clares a crib for their new church, and today only a statue remains, visible in the museum of St. Martin. Other examples date back to 1478, with a crib of Pietro and Giovanni Alemanno of which we have received twelve statues, and the crib in marble of 1475 by Antonio Rossellino, visible in Sant’Anna dei Lombardi church . One of the clearest examples of Neapolitan crib is given by manufacturing clay with pieces dating back to the eighteenth century, exposed in the EllipticGiuseppe Sammartino's crib room of the Royal Palace in Caserta. In the eighteenth century, the Neapolitan nativity scene experienced its golden age, when from the churches, where it was a religious object of devotion, the crib became a tradition in each aristocrat’s house. Giuseppe Sammartino, perhaps the greatest Neapolitan sculptor of the eighteenth century, a skilled artist for terracotta figures, gave rise to the first school for cribs.
In 1787, Goethe describes the crib in his Italian Journey to Italy.

“That’s the time to talk about another entertainment that is characteristic of the Neapolitans, the crib […] they build a small stage, hut shaped, all adorned with trees and small evergreen trees , and there they put the Lady, the Child Jesus and all the characters, including those that hover in the air, sumptuously dressed for the festivity […] . But what gives the whole show a note of incomparable grace is the background in which the Vesuvius frames itself with its surroundings. »

Although Jesus was a poor family’s son, with our cribs, it is as if for we scarabattoloNeapolitans Jesus’ birth happens in a Naples’ street, in a narrow and dark alley, among taverns and bassi, where poverty reigns. The crib can be made by poor people too, with papier-mâché or bark, twigs and a few plastic small statuettes. Until a few decades ago, only a few people  decorated a tree for Christmas, considered more a cold symbol of northern traditions, and it was said that once you had prepared a crib, you had to adorn and show it every year to avoid a bad luck!
Our cribs, as a symbol of equality, became the ransom of a miserable existence. It conveys joy and sweetness, and gives faith to even those who have little.
Once, it was the custom to visit relatives and friends to see their new crib; cribs that although simple and cheap, many families did not throw away, but kept close in a glass or wood’s container called “scarabattola” (Neapolitan term not translatable). Thanks to these containers, we today can admire old cribs that, centuries later, have got a historical and artistic value.

Christmas Stories

Published December 19, 2011 by Tony

A fabrication of history!

The etymology of the word Christmas, Natale, Kerstfeest or Weihnachtsfeiertag, refers to the ‘birth’ or ‘nativity’. The Italian ‘Natale’ comes from the Latin ‘natalis’ to mean ‘on the birth’ and ‘natalem’  indicates the ‘birth’; ‘Christ’s Mass’ is derived from the archaic ‘Cristes mæsse’, where ‘christ’ is derived from the Greek christos (Christ) and ‘mæssee’ derives from the Latin word ‘missa’, mass.

JesusAccording to the Gospels, the birth of Christ is traced to the period of the massacre of the innocents by Herod the Great, but according to studious this date is untrue. Herod died in 4 BC, so before the birth of Christ, and his successor Herod Antipas was not a king but only a tetrarch, while no source about the babies massacre born on that time. For the Gospels, Jesus was born during the census demanded by Caesar Augustus under Herod reign, quite discordant since as mentioned, Herod died in 4 BC while the census was probably held between 8 and 7 BC date on which, according to astrologers, there would be a conjunction of planets too. If it is impossible to determine accurately the Jesus month birth it is even more to set the day. The fact is that it should not be December if we consider that on that month in Bethlehem the weather is cold and as the Old Testament says, in Palestine the winter brought rains and low temperatures.
In contrast to what Luke says about the birth of Jesus, when he describes the shepherds who watch over their flocks at night. As Werner Keller says in his book ‘The Bible as history’, “even in the Promised Land could not be cattle grazing at that season”.  In fact, until the third century, when Rome not celebrating Christmas yet, it instead was celebrated on March 28 in Tunisia and on May 20 in Egypt, dates evidently much more likely. Even laymen have attempted to find a date, and thirty years ago the British astronomer David Hughes launched a theory that Jesus was born Sept. 15.  Last but not least, also the birthplace of Jesus would be false. Matthew and Luke wrote that he was born in Bethlehem, as we all know and believe, but it is not. But then Evangelist Mark says, much more likely, that Nazareth is Jesus’s ‘Patris’.
Why that? Because according to the prophecy, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the Gospels had clearly adapted to the prophecy.
In times past it was considered blasphemous to even asking to know facts and details of Jesus life. Pope Clement of Alexandria wrote: “They are not satisfied to know in what year the Lord was born, but
presepiowith too much curiosity also seek the day!“. While Pope Origen theorized: “In the Holy Scriptures sinners only, not saints, celebrate their birthday”.
The date of December 25 puts in accord Protestant and Christians, but not Orthodox, Armenians and Copts, also if oddly, they opt for January 6 or 7, a wintry dates anyhow.
In ancient times for the European Nordic peoples, the festival of Yule was the last day of winter and celebrated the Great Mother Goddess giving birth to the baby Sun God. Later for Norwegian and Danish people Christmas then became Jul.  In ancient Rome the celebration of Yule was replaced with those referring to the cult of Mithra and Saturn, during the period between the seventeenth and twenty-fourth day of December. Practically, still celebrating the end of winter and the rebirth of the Sun and light. Nay, in Israel, Christmas is also known as ‘Festival of Lights’. For Christians, Christ is the light and from emperor Constantine onwards, all pagan festivals were transformed and reduced to the festivities of the new irruptive Christianity religion. The count of the years had its start from the founding of the empire of Rome, but the monk Dionysius started the count from the dating of Annunciation of Mary, for him happened on March 25, 753 from the foundation of Rome, and so it became the YEAR 1 for the Christian era. In Rome in 274, before the legalization of Christianity, the Emperor Aurelian, with the establishment of the cult of ‘Sol Invictus,’ decided to celebrate ‘dies natalis’ after the winter solstice, when the daytime began to become longer. Around 352, with the advent of Christianity, Pope Julius I, let the pagan festival coincide with Jesus birthday, just the one we still celebrate.

Three Magi and the Comet
MagiAbout Magi and their long journey we find only a small mention in the Gospel of Matthew, while even in the apocryphal Gospel of James, are not mentioned their names or where they came from. All that we know about is due to some apocryphal Armenian texts of medieval time. According to historians, the ancient word ‘magi’ comes from ‘wizards’ and refers to the priests of the Medes, astrologers and fortune tellers, a Iranian population subjugated by the Persians.
Among the four evangelists, the only one that makes a reference to the star of Bethlehem is Matthew, and in the Holy scriptures there is no other information. However, while for the apostle Matthew it was a miraculous star or a divine manifestation, in time, many studious have tried to find a scientific explanation. One of these was Johannes Kepler who calculated the frequency of astral conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn (planet alignment, that when they appear in that position, look like a great luminous star in the sky), and going back over time, also found that in 7 BC there had been such an alignment that had led to a strong luminescence in the sky. Even for the American astronomer Michael R. Molnar, the phenomenon was due to Jupiter obscuration by the Moon, which occurred in 7 BC. Some famous Italian artists of the fourteenth century replaced the bright star with a comet, and Giotto was the first with his portrayal of the Nativity in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua.

xmas tree

There is no culture in the world that has not associated abundance and happiness archetype to the tree, where the decorated tree for the winter solstice, which ended with the longest night of the year, hoped for the return of the Sun and light. However, we don’t find decorated trees until 1510, when the German monk Martin Luther prepared at home a small lighted fir tree. Fir, that according to some legend, represents the tree of the Lord.





Crib of Cuciniello 1879, San Martino museum, Naples

When Yeshua Bar Yosefa, (Jesus) was born, time stopped and, as a living nativity scene, men and animals stayed motionless giving rise to a scene that artists and painters called “Nativity”, and the world of art is rich into representations.
Although in France,
in previous years, there were representations of the nativity with the production of ‘santons’ (nativity figurines), in Italy the crib or crèche is a tradition that goes back to St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, when for the first time represented the Nativity in the town of Rieti, with Jesus born in a cavern and placed in a manger with an ox and a donkey. The allegory was the return to the origins and the renunciation of material goods, both professed by the saint.

The most ancient earthenware, 1571, Modena chatedral

The strange thing is the lack of other important characters in the Nativity that were part of Jesus family, I am referring to his four brothers and at least two sisters, while in the grotto had to be sure other kids but, in the Holy scriptures nothing about is mentioned.

Father Christmas
Sinter Klaas Once, Santa Claus was configured with St. Nicholas figure, that according to historical sources, was bishop of the city Myra in Turkey, a wise old man lover of children, where in 350 AD it is said to have defeated the heretic Arius. At each anniversary of his death on January 6, AD 270, any good child received gifts and treats. Celebration resumed, then, from European peoples who celebrate the epiphany.  At Myra was a thriving port and for this St. Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors. Over the years his fame went around the West and in 1625 the Dutch directed in the New World, placed on the prow of their ships a little statue of St. Nicholas, or Sinter Klaas as they called him, portrayed with a pipe in the mouth, as the protector of the crew. Coke adertisement The trip was successful because later there was founded the city of New York, where the saint ‘Sinterklaas’ continued to be venerated. This figure changed when the American writer Clement C. Moore, in 1883, transformed it into an elf who came in homes through the fireplaces, moving on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. In 1860 the drawer Thomas Nast created a cartoon of Santa Claus on a U.S. newspaper, with a chubby face, white beard and dressed in green, as we know it today, although the characteristic red dress came later by a Coke Christmas advertisement.

Christmas has not always been synonymous of celebration. During the English Civil War, from 1647 to 1657, the Puritan government of Oliver Cromwell banned the Christmas celebration downgraded it to an ordinary working and ‘penance’ day to avoid binge. Even the famous newspaper Times did not mention Christmas for a long period, from 1790 to 1835. A similar measure was taken up in America in 1659, in the Puritan colonies founded by expatriates from England. In Massachusetts, Christmas was banned until at least 1681.

Whatever the true date of Christ’s birth or place, I believe that this ancient and important holiday will never die and through this post I only wanted to give my wishes in a different way, and hope in a instructive way even. Therefore, beyond religions or beliefs, Christmas is a time of aggregation, of prayer, reflection, recreation and rebirth and the best wish I want give everybody is to get never tired of fighting for a better world, to demand peace and equality, because at the first place there are ourselves, there is the man who is a son and an earthly being, first of anything else.