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Friday, December 18, 2020

A Contemporary Nativity Scene at St. Peter's: Visiting Piazza San Pietro before Christmas

RST is delighted to offer another guest post by our Rome friend Larry Litman, who wrote eloquently in March about being in Rome under one of the first lockdowns. Since we can't be in Rome, we asked Larry for a holiday offering. Here he visits Piazza San Pietro before Christmas and discovers an unusual presepe or crèche (as we called them in our family) as well as a gorgeous display of another 100 presepi.

Larry lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, before moving to Rome in 2007.  In the early 1970s he studied at Loyola University of Chicago's Rome Center, now the John Felice Rome Center on Monte Mario. "That was when I fell in love with the city of Rome," Larry writes, "and then had the dream of making Rome my home."

Larry is a retired teacher librarian at AmBrit International School and is active at St. Paul's Within the Walls (the Episcopal Church on via Nazionale).  He also volunteers at the Non-Catholic Cemetery. He has two adult children and two grandchildren living in New York City.

Visiting Piazza San Pietro before Christmas

A Christmas tradition for many Romans (and tourists) is to visit St. Peter’s Square and view the tree and presepe (crèche). Each year a tree is donated to the Pope from a different country and the crèche each year is by different artists.

When I visited the square on December 15th, there weren’t even two dozen people there. It felt strange to be in a space that is normally teeming with tourists and pilgrims. I also went into St. Peter’s Basilica. There was no line to go through the security screening, and once inside it was also practically empty.

The presepe figures this year have brought a lot of criticism. The life size ceramic figures are from Castelli in the Abruzzo region and were created by students and teachers of the “F.A. Grue” Art Institute. The Nativity scene featured several life-sized ceramic statues in a contemporary art style that “has its roots in the traditional working of Castelli’s ceramics,” said a statement from the Vatican. “The cylindrical ceramic statues surrounding Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus included a bagpiper, a shepherdess holding a jug and even an astronaut, meant to reference the history of ancient art and scientific achievements in the world.” (Source: Catholic News Service-CNS)

A special feature for 2020 is a display of 100 presepi in the Bernini Colonnade. The scenes come from around the world and reflect many different style of recreating the Christmas Story with figurines.

Larry Litman

Below are 7 of the 100 presepi  - traditional, and not so traditional; you can pick your favorite. Photos by Larry Litman.

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