The Sicilian "Christmas Crib"
presepe di cera colorata (primi
del ‘700), opera di Giovanni Rosselli. Museo di Messina
presepe di corallo (part.). Museo
natività in ceramica. Chiesa
di Militello Val di Catania
The "crib" is a typical Christmas image. It
was diffused in Italy since the XIV century thanks to the Counter reformation
that intensified the cult of Our Lady. It was, above all, an object of
cult inside the churches and was diffused in Sicily since the XV century.
But it was only since the XVI century that it was possible to speak of
a real "crib" consisting of a cave with trees and wood all
around ii, filled with a certain number of characters. This figurative
culture has already been expressed by the illuminated codes, the mosaics,
the printing painting on the walls or on glass and, above all, marble
bass-relieves. In the XVII century the "crib" diffused among
court and aristocracy the characters in the "crib", the faces,
the clothes and the attitudes of the popular Sicilian world of that period.
They were countrymen, craftsmen, shepherds, hunters and fishermen. Finally,
in 1700, the family "crib" prevailed and all figures were put
inside a glass show-case called "Scaffarata". At the beginning
of 1800 the "crib" became more popular because it was possible
to buy figures at a low price. It was due to the evolution of making
figures and, in general to economical and cultural changes in Sicily.
Today the "crib" is still very important because it represents
a fragment of past life. For this reason “to make the crib”,
every year, is not only a domestic ritual, but is like creating a scene
from when Jesus Christ was born.
The kings and the emperors, to distinguish themselves from the knights
and (from) the soldiers, wore a mantle and a crown or they had a
garland of laurel on their shield. The protagonists spoke with particular
slang, that wasn't neither Italian nor Sicilian; it made use of resonant
words and phrases, often wreck of verses, derived from literary sources
and arranged for Sicilian syntax. Puppet theatre decline coincided
with the beginning of the silent cinema and the television, so the "opera
dei pupi" persists as a spectacle for the tourists' curiosity.
Nevertheless only in the last years, the local public, especially the
young people and the students, shows interest in this ancient artistic
form; it is always and however a fascinating and precious cultural
patrimony to safeguard.