England has its nativity plays; Italy has its presepi or cribs. Making cribs is a characteristically Italian activity and dates back to at least the time of Saint Francis. Not only is it highly developed but it also presents an act of religious devotion like all tasks requiring a lot of patience! Our valley, because of its long-standing tradition of making figurines in plaster-of-Paris, is still central to this tradition.
At the circolo dei forestieri exhibition and conference space on the first floor there is always a display of presepi at Christmas time. A couple of years back the display was supplied by the Sicilian town of Caltagirone which also has a great tradition of making presepi. This year the exhibition was presented by a town much closer home – Pieve Fosciana, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.
All the cribs presented showed creativity and supreme artisanship. I was intreagued by this crib built into a light bulb.
The depth of focus in this one was startling, and the opening out onto the sea quite original.
This one struck me the most, however, as it showed a heavily-pregnant and paining Virgin just before the birth of her son:
I wonder if the presepe-maker here had another figure of Mary tucked up his sleeve after she’d given birth. The name of Maurizio Turriani featured often in this presentation and I was amazed at the high level of his craftsmanship.
All the presepi are entitled to enter a competition for the best one and the adjudication will take place in the New Year. I wonder which crib will win this Christmas?
If you’ve missed this exhibition then there’s still time to go to Pieve Fosciana itself where the great mechannical presepe awaits you. Here is a video of it:
Further afield, there are the presepi at the arena di Verona which I visited a few years ago and are absolutely stunning.