Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in St. Peter’s Square

The attention to detail is spectacular. No wonder it took from the beginning of November until Christmas Eve in order to finish the Crib in St. Peter’s Square!

Unusually, this year, instead of locating the Holy Family in a stable in Bethlehem, they are firmly ensconced in Joseph’s house, complete with its carpenter’s workshop to the right and the ‘eatery’ to the left. Large, jagged cracks run between the bricks on the outside of the building and, on the inside, crumbling plaster on the walls show the poverty of the village carpenter even if the faded green curtains separating the house and the workshop haven’t been noticed. Outside, a hen and a rooster, several sheep and two goats and, yes, the ox and ass, are clearly visible, as are, inside, Simeon and Anna.

In the ‘eatery’ (did whoever wrote the description intend to use that word or another?), whilst one person kneads and rolls out the dough, a man with a long-handled shovel (for want of a better word) turns to put a loaf into the oven for baking. A woman carries out a small tray with a carafe of wine and a cup to a man sitting at the table.

The carpenter’s shop is beautiful with its workbench, tools and a wooden stool. The occupants are hard at work. What are they making as the curtain billows in the breeze? How many hours did Joseph and Jesus spend together as the Boy learned his trade?

Within the single room of the house, the battered and ancient staircase stretches upwards to a balcony whereon are two angels, whilst a third hovers over Mary and Jesus, protecting them from harm. Only slightly beneath their feet is the start of the road that will take them to Egypt. It is green and flanked with plants of all shapes and sizes: olives, palm trees, poinsettia, cyclamen and others…

Yet it is not only the front of the house that has been lovingly created. At the back, a small wooden veranda and steps support large bunches of rushes, drying in the sun…

Towering above the Crib, the magnificent tree, the gift of the Tyrol, shimmers in the sunlight, laden with silver and gold baubles, tinsel and other decorations. As is the custom in Italy, they will remain until 2nd February, the feast of the Presentation, for everyone to see and enjoy. Behind them, hidden amongst the wonderful Bernini colonnade, an exhibition of Cribs from the town of Trentino is nothing short of captivating. Not all of the figures within the various scenes are expertly made: in one of them, Jesus looks about 10 years old as he lies in the manger! Yet what exquisite pieces of driftwood! How perfect they are in creating stables and caves! Where on earth did people manage to find such beautiful pieces of wood?

…and the carvings! So much love went into their creation…

The beauty about the Nativity is not only the story of God becoming a human Baby. It is the involvement of a family and real people. Most of us can identify with a mother and child. Most of us can admire the generosity, love and fidelity of Joseph, who took on a baby who wasn’t his, but became his child through adoption. The story of Christmas is the story of a family. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so much love is expended in recreating the events of that night so long ago.

God bless,
Sr. Janet
PS Check out my website at I have added some recordings that you might find of interest. Eventually there will be a page of podcasts, but for now, you can have a taste of more to come….