Genoese traditional creches

Marble Nativity in St. Laurence Cathedral in Genoa

.. and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger:
because there was no room for them in the inn  (Luke II, 7)

Creches (or cribs, reconstructions of the Nativity Scene) are a famous artistic handicraft tradition all over Italy. This tradition dates back to the dawn of Christianity, but history tells that it was San Francis from Assisi who first wanted to embellish the scene of the Christmas Mass with a living representation of the nativity scene. This first creche took place in Greccio in 1233 and is represented in a famous fresco by Giotto in the Assisi higher Basilica. "Presepe" means litterly "manger" or "feeding trough" and the word creche is the French translation of the same word. In fact the Gospel says that Jesus was born in a stable, or better in a cowshed, and put in a trough. The main characters of a traditional Italian creche are the Holy Family, the ox and the donkey and the three Wizard Kings. These characters are set in a landscape and environment that is the old Italian countryside with plenty of details that represent every day life. In other cases, the creches is enriched with religious symbolisms and characters from all different human races, to show how Christ came for the entire mankind and also the profound revolution he brought.

The traditional Genoese creche has two souls, one artistic and one popular. From 17th to 19th century, Genoa was, together with Naples, one of the most active center in the production of creche figures. The most famous carver workshop was that held by the sculptor Antonio Maragliano, who produced painted wooden figures, with finely designed clay head, dressed in woven clothes. Besides to the traditional figures of the crib, a great number of different characters were created this way, including farmers, shepherds, soldiers, tavern customers, and typically old beggars.

Beside this artistic aspect, the Christmas crib is a great popular tradition in Genoa. In the last centuries, during the weeks that precede Christmas all private houses became workshops of craftsmen. Most of these domestic craftsmen (my father was one of them) exercized their fantasy especially in the creation of landscapes and buildings (such as the castle, the farm, the seventeenth-century villa), using natural materials like cork, or musk and twigs of heather, collected by the end of the summer on the hills nearby. The crib was completed by light effects that used colored light bulbs and papers to create the illusion of day and night recurrence, passing through a burning sunset and a pale rosy dawn. This light effects gave drama to the representation and obviously constituted the greater source of fun for us children.


Some Genoese creches I visited on Christmas 2003

click on the thumbnail to visit each creche


Shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain
Shrine of Our Lady
on the Mountain
	St. Bartholomew, Staglieno, Genoa
Oratory of St. Bartholomew
Church of St. Catherine, GEnoa
Church of St. Catherine
Church of the Holy Father
Church of the Holy Father
Church of St. Desiderius, Bavari
St. Desiderius of Bavari
	St. Bartholomew  of  Certosa
St. Bartholomew of Certosa
Traso, Genova
St. Ambros of Traso
	Church of St. Sirus, Viganego
St. Sirus of Viganego
Village of Pentema
Village of Pentema (2001)

The top image is the marble Nativity exposed in St. Laurence Cathedral in Genoa
Some information was taken from publications of Comune and of Provincia of Genoa

Carla Marchetti ~ 2004
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