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The “presepe”? Italian mother-tongue

The origins of “presepe” is Italian and there are mainly two of them. The first one is concerned with St. Francis of Assisi who created the first representation of Nativity in Greccio, a small village in Lazio in 1223 or 1233 being authorized by the Pope Honorius III. It was the first living “presepe” and that episode was celebrated by Giotto on a fresco that is kept in the Upper Church of Assisi, an amazing masterpiece of the Italian art.

A number of important contemporary historians of “presepe” came to the conclusion that the first one was made in 1289 or in 1283 by the sculptor and architect Arnolfo di Cambio and the small statues that could survive are kept inside the crypt of the Sistine Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Despite its true origins, the “presepe” has got different shapes and is made of different materials according to the Italian tradition and the geographical areas. From the one that comes from Naples – whose golden century goes back to the XVIIIth – to the Sicilian one that is made of golden leaves, coral, mother-of-pearl and shells or the one that comes from Puglia, Lecce that is made of papier-mâché or the one from Liguria, especially the poor one dating back to the XVIIIth century made in the furnaces of Savona and Albisola by means of the compressed clay put into the moulds and coloured by hand. In the context of the contemporary “presepe” the living ones are spread all over Italy and one of the most peculiar is the underwater Nativity of Vernazza where Jesus was born from water at midnight. A few kilometres far there is the wax statue of the Christ that was given by Pope John Paul II – it comes out of water waved by the fireworks.

In Cesenatico, on the other hand, the floating “presepe” is on show. It is set on the ships of the harbour and it was entered into the heritage of Italian traditions by the Ministry of Tourism in 2011. And if you want to be stick to traditions there are a lot of museums dedicated to the “presepe” all over Italy, they are featured by different types of possible shapes and materials, even the one that is made of pizza dough.

Luciana Francesca Rebonato

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