There are living cribs with ‘raffiguranti’ representing shepherds, artisans and, of course, the Holy Family. The best example of these around us is at Equi Terme in Lunigiana and at Ruota on the Pisan Mountain. There are cribs in stables or in grottoes. Again, Equi Terme is wonderful because the nativity scene takes place in a Palaeolithic cave.
There are also figurative cribs with statues taking part of the shepherds, the artisans, the Holy Family and the panoply of angels which graced that miraculous night of December 24th 2015 years ago.
This year we decided to visit a ‘presepe nella grotta’ (the Italian for crib in a cave) and ventured to the grotta delle Campore which is at the end of the valley leading to Pescaglia.
The instructions told us of a half-kilometre walk through a wood but be warned! As much as Italians may over-emphasise the pomp of their princes and lords through the magnificent palaces erected for them they will also underemphasise the difficulties of certain terrains.
Armed with a torch but, through carelessness, lacking our trekking sticks (must remember to bring those next time, if there is a next time!) we ventured forth up a candle-lit path which quivered this way and that over rocks and tree roots and steps, lots of them – a path with boulders on one side and an unfathomable drop into a fast flowing stream on the other and not much to hold onto…
It was getting darker and darker. We’d got this far. We’d done the Buddhist caves in Cambodia only a week ago. Surely we could do this one!
And we did and it was worth every near-slip of our steps and every sigh of suspense.
The grotta delle Campore, where the statue crib is placed, is a primordial cave placed rather above a thousand feet from where we started near the area’s last remaining olde-worlde iron smith at Galgani (see my post at
whose furnaces are still furnished with water power). It’s a cave that has sheltered hermits from ancient times, shepherds from all ages and partisans from the last bloody conflict which took part in this area of the world. In all senses pf the word , the cave is a refuge and we truly felt like pilgrims approaching a natural sanctuary.
The cave, as is often the case, was more spectacular than the statues within it which we could see better than other times, we were told, since as it hasn’t rained around here for almost two months the water levels were very low and we could walk where underground streams would normally purl into the abyss.
Although not an easily repeatable experience we were so glad we visited the nativity scene in the grotta delle Campore near Convalle. We felt that all those following us in this somewhat rash deed (it was dark by seven and walking up a mountain in the dark is no joke) were miraculously transformed from sightseers to pilgrims.
Our descent was a little more perilous than our ascent but the spirit of camaraderie in those making sure we’d all get down in one piece was absolutely top-class and really made our day (or night, rather) for us.
We, indeed, had been transformed into pilgrims and felt (especially in our knee-joints) something of the effort it would have taken all those pilgrims over two thousand years ago to celebrate something whose future they knew nothing about but which was announced by a comet-like star.
Let us hope that the future our forefathers believed in then will still be felt by us for without it I feel we can see very little other future on this future-menaced planet where, as I write, at the same time as traffic has been banned from Italy’s major cities because of extraordinarily high rates of pollution through lack of rain, so many areas of north east England, and especially Yorkshire seem to look like a prophecy of the universal deluge from pictures I have seen from the planes of intrepid pilots.
In any case may your Christmas festivities continue as dry as possible (and I’m not thinking about the Morellino or even the Chianti …)
PS If you are a health and safety fanatic don’t bother to go!