And in this world of winter where everything rave, I saw four varnished pastors, as the figures found in the Christmas fair that cuddle the wool flocks […] It was a landscape that I had made to my own view, soft moss, purple charm, rounded mountains similar to my country […]
(fragment of the Christmas Poem by J.M.de Sagarra)
Since, as history says, St. Francis represented the first birth in the city of Assisi, that time with animals, the dramatization of such an important event in the Christian calender has been extended around the world in different ways. Less than two hundred years after the St. Francis living manger there already are references of manger artisans in Catalonia, and nowadays it must be recognized that the “mangerism” and all the exhibitions it generates have become an essential part of the Christmas traditions.
Among all fairs and artisan families, such as Martí Castells in Catalonia, today we want to present you two manger exhibitions where to enjoy this art even after Christmas.
A normal July day, walking around the old city of Bethlehem. The doors of the houses, in a location not too distant from those inns where Mary and Joseph were asked to stay, are open wide. A peaceful and sweet smell of olive wood and varnish comes out. Shelves full of crib figures, of all sizes and shapes, in some houses -transformed in shops- they are placed without any order while other are deposited with extreme neatness. It is the eternal Christmas, that of living a few meters from its origin, from that humble mystery that gives meaning to the traditions that we celebrate today, among pilgrims and figures. It could be said that Bethlehem is that small manger that, despite the circumstances, struggles to be what we all have in our imagination.
The Christian community, a minority in a Palestine inhabited mostly by Muslims and controlled by Jews, remains in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a significant presence in the places that represent the source of its faith. The hand crafted work with wood from the olive tree fields adjacent to the city, is part of the artwork involved in any visit to such important places and it is surely the most authentic permanent nativity fair, at least if we consider the accuracy and closeness to the facts.
Naples. Crossing Via dei Tribunali a cold February evening. The crowded motorcycles meander streets and pedestrians. Turning the corner an alley appears downhill. And it appears just like a mirage: Via San Gregorio Armeno. It is a narrow passage that the circumstances have shrunk even more. One after another different stores with crib figures appear, here much more baroque dressed in paper suits. Child Jesus wrapped in gold paper with extreme decorations, born in inhospitable scenarios as between a pair of Corinthian columns supporting a brick building. Even though, the fascination goes beyond the figures, because the street is also a huge show of detailed outdoor Nativity. From brooms to flowerpots, spaghetti dish made with mud and imitations of small street lights. To walk through San Gregorio Armeno is an spectacle for the senses and inevitable at the same time to feel that this little corner of Naples maintains a perpetual Christmas. Somehow, the city also feels proud and it. It is therefore advisable to discover the number of sites displaying the Neapolitan cribs. The most authentic and at the same time exaggerated sample is the magnificent nativity scene in one of the rooms of the Certosa di San Martino, on a hill from where the whole city can be contemplated: in a way, a piece of Bethlehem in Italy.
Ignasi Sánchez Rull