During the Christmas period, which traditionally begins in Rome with the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8th, nativity scenes are set up in all the most important churches. In this article we will point out the most suggestive nativity scenes.
Let’s start with the one in Piazza San Pietro, which is different every year because it is made by different cities of the world. This year is the turn of Scurelle, a town in the Trento province, to take care of one of the most famous nativity scenes in the world. While the gigantic fir tree that will be decorated will come from the Asiago plateau.
Near the Vatican you can visit the “100 Crib International Exhibition”, in via della Conciliazione, in the San Pio XI hall, with free admission.
In the center, we suggest you to visit the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, built in the 4th century, where you can admire the oldest inanimate crib in history. This is the masterpiece by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1290/91. It consists of eight marble figures of extraordinary beauty and plasticity, which manage to create a real scenographic representation of the Nativity.
Another must-see crib to visit is the monumental crib of the Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano. The Nativity scene is set among the columns of the Roman Forum, with a large number of characters representing shepherds, artisans, soldiers, street vendors. The statuettes, in wood or ceramic, come from Naples, where in the 1700s the Baroque crib art developed at the highest levels.
The Neapolitan Masters created an innumerable series of “Pastori” (as they were called in Naples the statuettes of the crib) of various dimensions, which are still today sold in the most important international auctions at mind-boggling prices. You will be enchanted by the preciousness of the materials used: corals, ivories, fabrics and lace adorn the characters making them realistic to the maximum.
Another Neapolitan Baroque nativity scene, set in the ruins of Rome, is located in the church of Santa Maria in Via. During the Mass on December 24th the display of a Nativity set in the Rome of the 1800s among the ruins is shown: a real scene of everyday life in Rome winds along the Forums, up to the Appian Way, with the tomb of Cecilia Metella in the background.
In the picturesque Monti district, in via Tor de’ Conti, there is the church of Santi Quirico e Giulitta, which houses in its basement a Permanent Museum of the Nativity, with about 3000 statues from all over the world.
We conclude the list of our proposals with two traditional stages, much loved by the Romans: the Basilica of the Ara Coeli and the Netturbini Nativity, in via dei Cavalleggeri.
In the first there was a statue of the 15th-century “bambinello” Jesus, which stood out in the crib due to its beauty. Thus a true cult of the Bambinello was born, because it is considered a dispenser of miracles. In front of the Crib, a stage was set up in the past where many children recited the Christmas poem. Unfortunately the original was stolen in 1994, but was replaced by an icon, equally venerated.
Finally worthy of note is the “Netturbini” Nativity, also known as the Romans, one of the most cherished Christmas traditions for citizens, which since the 1970s have followed this permanent work which has transformed the original nativity scene into an incredible reconstruction of ancient Palestine, with bridges, aqueducts, buildings and characters. In addition, visitors donated about 3,000 stones of all kinds, as a testimony of their affection.
Admission is free, and if you want you can bring a stone to contribute to this extraordinary project!
We can organize thematic visits on Christmas in and around Rome, contact us for more information.