Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Presipio and the Gato

Having always loved nativity scenes, Rome turned out to be the "place to be" during this Christmas and Epiphany season as Italians also love their presipi, or nativity displays.  It is said that the presipio originated in Italy in the 1200′s when St. Francis of Assisi asked Giovanni Vellita from the village of Greccio to create a manger scene. St. Francis then performed Christmas mass in front of this nativity scene. 
Italy is an especially historic and interesting country, and no city is greater in historical significance than Rome.  It is to Rome that I traveled one year during the Twelve Days of Christmas which culminated with the celebration of Epiphany.  It was a glorious time to be in Rome. 

In 17th century Naples, artisans began creating presipi and made the creation of nativity scenes into an art form. The presepi included the nativity scene but also represented life in Naples at the time. Today many artisans are still dedicated to the craft of creating hand made figures for presepi. 

presepe photoDozens if not hundreds of elaborate presipi are on display in Rome during the Christmas and Epiphany seasons.  These presipi, some centuries-old, are located in churches, museums, storefronts, and homes.  A shooting star symbol indicates a building in which a presipio can be found.  And what a treasure they are!

Besides the usual ten figures Americans generally think of in a nativity scene, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the three wise men, a shepherd and a few animals, in Italy the presepio (manger scene), contains large numbers of biblical characters, angels, animals and people from every day life as well.  The presipi are large--some taking up entire rooms--and intricate.  It is a thrill to actually discover the "inn" with the baby Jesus in each presipio.  It is sort of a "where's Waldo" type moment.

On the day of Epiphany, my host and I traveled through the labyrinth of Roman streets to look one more time at the presipi.  Why?  Because each presipio had changed overnight.  You see, the kings "had arrived" during the night bearing their gifts for the Christ child.  Three more gloriously carved figures, their camels, and their entourage had been added to each presipio. 

What an incredible treasure these presipio are for the local and tourist to Rome during the Christmas and Epiphany seasons! 

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the "gato"!  There were gato--or cats--simply everywhere you looked in Rome--more numerous than the presipi.

1 comment:

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