Friday, January 05, 2007

Unexpected places

There is loveliness in the most unexpected places!

Yesterday, after work, a friend and I went to the Piazza del Populo, not too far from Vatican Radio, to see the annual exhibition of 100 Presepi (100 Cribs). It was fabulous!

I’ve never been to this exhibition before, so I don’t know if the Cribs that were on display are the same as those of last year, or different. I suspect they are new creations, especially as a high number of the contributors were Embassies to the Holy See and to Italy, as well as primary schools.

I also suspect that some of the items could not have survived from one year to the next… such as the lovely Nativity scene created by a class of young children from uncooked pasta. I would never have imagined that the different shapes of pasta, from the shells to the long, spaghetti-like strips, could have been so perfectly positioned that they resulted in a delicate, fragile and very beautiful Crib. Similarly for another youthful endeavour, but with coffee beans! Other children had managed to create equal loveliness from eggs and even from bits of rope!

Amongst the tremendous variety of contributions was an ingenious and very attractive Nativity scene built out of discarded plastic bottles, one of the substances I would have least considered capable of ending up as something so beautiful and reverential.

Completely unforgettable was a larger-than-life Crib made from cellophane, plastic bags and wire. It was magnificent! The oxen, the donkey and the sheep were amazingly true to life, whereas Mary and Jesus could almost have spoken. One of the Magi was particularly splendid. Never, ever, would or could I have imagined that such simple substances could have produced such loveliness! It really made me think that my eyes have never really been opened to the full potential of the world around me, that even materials that I would have classed as rubbish can speak to me of beauty and of God.

But not all the Cribs were of recycled materials. In Italy, the Crib is an art form, with countless hours being spent in transforming basic materials into scenes of everyday village or town life, with the Holy Family inserted into the ordinary daily lives of the people around them. The results are exquisite and amazingly complex. Of the many scenes in the display, one that remains in my memory was created from the root of an ancient olive tree. Such panoramas are really a theology of the Incarnation in themselves.

The Embassies were not to be outdone. I loved the Native American tepee, with Mary carrying her Papoose on her back and Joseph beside her with his spear. Then there were the scenes from Bolivia, Guatemala, Chile, Peru and other parts of Latin, Central and South America, complete with their traditional clothing and artefacts. The French contribution was carved from a single piece of rock.

…and there was a simple Italian scene in which the Holy Family was merely two stone carvings curled up in the middle of the medieval passageway in which the whole exhibition was sited…

…and what of the two contributions in which every single figure was hand knitted?

… and the Crib made from sharpened pencils and a Bible?

Truly, there is loveliness in the most unexpected places and wherever there is beauty, there is God!

God bless,
Sr. Janet