A unique nativity scene at the Vatican

David Fernández Alonso-December 12, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes

The Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello and the bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzagarespectively President and Secretary General of the Governorate of the Vatican City State, inaugurated this afternoon the nativity scene and the lighting of the Christmas tree installed in St. Peter's 17.00 in the afternoon. The ceremony took place in compliance with the rules to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, which is leading to changes in the Pope's usual events, such as the recent private visit to Piazza di Spagna to pray before the Immaculate Conception, or the Christmas Eve Mass he will celebrate at 7.30 p.m. on the evening of December 24.

Official delegations from the places of origin of the crib and the tree have been present, from Castelli in Abruzzo the crib and from the municipality of Kočevje in southeastern Slovenia the fir tree.

A unique nativity scene

The monumental Nativity, composed of large ceramic statuesLorenzo Leuzzi, the extraordinary commissioner for post-earthquake reconstruction, Giovanni Legnini, the president of the Abruzzi Region, Marco Marsilio, and the president of the Province of Teramo, Diego Di Bonaventura. 

In this manger of the Abruzzi there are strong references to the history of ancient artThe collection includes a series of sculptures from Greek to Sumerian art, as well as Egyptian sculpture. One of the figures in the ensemble is particularly striking: it is a astronaut. It seems that the Grue students wanted to include historical events of humanity, including the landing on the moon. In addition, in the objects that enrich the crib and in the pentachromy with which the works have been decorated, one finds the memory of local ceramic art.

The statues were made with ring modules that, superimposed, form cylindrical busts. In some of the figures, especially in the use of color, one can perceive the experimentation and renovation of the ceramic art developed in those years in the Grue Lyceum. The first public exhibition of the Nativity took place in Castelli, in the parvis of the mother church in December 1965, then, at Christmas 1970 it was the turn of the Trajan's Markets in Rome and, a few years later, in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv.

A fir tree from Slovenia

At the lighting of the Christmas tree - the majestic fir (Spruce abies) of 30 meters high and weighing 7 tons - have participated, among others, the archbishop Msgr. Alojzij CviklVice-President of the Slovenian Episcopal Conference, H.E. Dr. Anže LogarMinister of Foreign Affairs and H.E. Dr. Jože PodgoršekMinister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food. 

The spruce comes from Kočevje, a village in the basin of the river Rinža. The Kočevsko region is one of the Slovenian territories where nature is most intact, considering that forests cover 90% of its territory. The fir tree chosen for St. Peter's Square grew near Kočevska Reka.6 kilometers as the crow flies from the impressive virgin forest of Krokar, which is one of the primordial forests still intact. This virgin forest is one of two Slovenian forest reserves, the other being Snežnik-'drocle (in the Notranjska region), one of 63 primordial ancient beech forest sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Spruce, which became widespread in Slovenia in the second half of the 18th century, accounts for more than 30% of forest resources and is the most economically important tree species. Since ancient times it has been a symbol of fertility. and in folk tradition it is often used for ceremonies such as May 1st or Christmas celebrations. In the Bela Krajina region, a spruce tree decorated with flowers and fabrics was traditionally carried in procession on the feast of St. George. The tallest spruce tree in Europe, "Sgermova smreka", is 61.80 meters tall and is located in the Pohorje massif in Slovenia. It is about 300 years old, has a circumference of 3 meters and 54 centimeters, and its diameter exceeds one meter.

The humility of the Holy Family

This morning, the Castelli and Kočevje delegations were received in audience by Pope Francis for the official presentation of the gifts. The Holy Father expressed his gratitude for the gifts and reminded, referring to these two icons of Christmas, that "help to create a Christmas atmosphere favorable to live with faith the mystery of the Redeemer's birth."The Pope spoke of "evangelical poverty"He said that the poverty of which the manger speaks to us, that is, a poverty that makes us "blessed". And he paused to contemplate ideally the characters: 

"As we contemplate the Holy Family and the various characters, we are drawn to their disarming humility. Our Lady and St. Joseph go from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There is no place for them, not even a small room (cf. Lk 2:7); Mary listens, observes and keeps everything in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51). Joseph looks for a place for her and the child who is about to be born. The shepherds are protagonists in the manger, as in the Gospel. They live in the open. They keep watch. The announcement of the angels is for them, and they go immediately to look for the Savior who is born (cf. Lk 2:8-16).".

An admirable sign

The Pope took the opportunity to encourage us to reread the letter he signed a year ago in Greccio about the manger: "This Christmas too, in the midst of the suffering of the pandemic, Jesus, small and defenseless, is the "Sign" that God gives to the world (cf. Lk 2:12). An admirable sign, like the letter from the manger that I signed a year ago in Greccio. It will do us good to read it again these days".

Finally, thanking everyone from the depths of his heart for these gifts, the Holy Father expressed his wishes for a hope-filled Christmas celebration, extending them to his family and fellow citizens. "May the Lord - expressed - reward them for their availability and generosity".

Christmas set - the Italian nativity scene and the Slovenian fir tree will remain in the square until January 10, 2021.Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the day that concludes the Christmas season.

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