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With the atmosphere of a slice of Italy

· Francesco Artese's Lucanian crib set up in St Peter's Square ·

The Nativity scene is in the plural and ubiquitous. This explains its fascination. It is plural because everyone can and must go to the manger of Bethlehem: the shepherds with their flocks, as in the Evangelist Luke's narrative and in the iconographic tradition of the Christian west, but also sports champions, contemporary personalities and figures from the world of entertainment, jostling against political leaders, as are also to be found in modern Neapolitan cribs. Then it is ubiquitous because it can be copied everywhere. St Francis' invention in Greccio, eight centuries ago, made the universal multiplication of the reproduction of the Nativity possible and ensured that the theatrical imitation of that event would acquire the typical environmental and cultural features of the place where it was assembled. There can be and are cribs interpreted in all the styles and costumes of the regions and peoples of our world.

So it is that this year the Vatican Nativity scene will be Italian and Lucanian. It is offered by the Region of Basilicata, it is the work of Maestro Francesco Artese, it did not cost much, as is right in these times of crisis, and it is beautiful, in the sense that it is at once both descriptive and evocative.

It is descriptive because it is intended as a portrayal of Matera, the town of the Sassi [stones], and evocative because what we see makes us sense the atmosphere and, as it were the bustle, the deep sounds of a wonderful slice of Italy.

Just as a shell held to the ear echoes the sound of the sea, so Artese's crib, relocated in a place peopled by men, women, children and animals that dwell in the identifiable and perfectly recognizable places of ancient Matera, reconstructed to scale, make us understand the distinctive features of the history, culture and countryside of the Region.

We shall stop in front of the Crib in the shadow of the obelisk of St Peter's Square and have the impression we are entering the most secluded and archaic corner of Italy.

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St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 13, 2019

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