The first known nativity figures are exhibited in Rome | Catholic National Register

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Sante Guido, art historian and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, told EWTN that five of the marble statues in today’s nativity scene are entirely 13th-century origin.

ROME – The first known nativity figures are currently on display in one of the oldest basilicas in Rome.

The underground Chapel of the Nativity in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major – known to Italians as Santa Maria Maggiore – once contained at least six marble nativity statues carved by Arnolfo di Cambio at the end of the 13th century.

The public can now see these nativity figures in the Marian basilica Sixtine Chapel, located to the right of the high altar.

The figurines were commissioned in 1292 by Pope Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan Pope, who took inspiration from Saint Francis of Assisi, the creator of the first living nativity scene in Greccio, Italy, in 1223.

Sante Guido, art historian and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, told EWTN that five of the marble statues in today’s nativity scene are entirely 13th-century origin.

This means that this manger was present when Saint Cajetan experienced an apparition of the Child Jesus in the Chapel of the Nativity on Christmas night in 1517 and when Saint Ignatius of Loyola chose to offer his first Mass in the chapel in 1538. .

It is not known how many figures in total made up the nativity scene commissioned by Nicholas IV, but the marble figures that exist today of Saint Joseph, the three wise men and a single work representing both a cow and a donkey are part of the original set, according to Guido.

The statue of the Virgin Mary enthroned with the baby Jesus underwent a major restoration at the end of the 16th century, he explained.

Courtney Mares.

The Italian art historian and restorer noted that this was not the first depiction of the birth of Christ in Christian history, but the first manger in the form as it is known today. ‘hui.

“In the history of Christianity there are many representations of the Nativity of Christ, of course, even on the first Christian sarcophagi, but also in Romanesque cathedrals and in Gothic cathedrals there are representations of an episode of the life of Christ: his birth, ”he declared.

“Here, instead, we have the representation of the manger, according to the spirit of St. Francis, so this manger is the first manger in history. It is not only a representation of the crib, but it is a crib.

The connection between the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the birth of Christ dates back centuries before this nativity scene was commissioned. The basilica has a precious relic of pieces of the Nativity scene of Christ sent from Bethlehem by Saint Sophronius, then Patriarch of Jerusalem, to Pope Theodore I in the 7th century.

For this reason, the basilica was once called St. Mary of the Manger and was also called “the Bethlehem of the West”.

This crib relic was historically kept in the Chapel of the Nativity crypt, which was first created in the 7th century but has been rebuilt several times over the centuries.

Courtney Mares.

Courtney Mares.

Pope Sixtus V restored the crypt of the Chapel of the Nativity to its present form between 1585 and 1590 when he built the Sistine Chapel in the basilica.

In the Sistine Chapel of Saint Mary Major, where the Nativity Scene is located, visitors can also see the first tabernacle made according to the precepts of the Council of Trent and an altar dedicated to Saint Jerome.

Courtney Mares.

Courtney Mares.

Tradition has it that the relics of Saint Jerome were brought from Bethlehem to Rome shortly after the relic of the manger and are now located either in the main altar or in the side chapel of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major where the first nativity is currently on display.

The relic of the crib is now kept in a niche under the high altar of the basilica. It was moved by Pope Pius IX from the Chapel of the Nativity to its current location under the altar in the 19th century.

Pope Francis visited the Basilica of Saint Mary Major during Advent this year on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

The Pope made a pilgrimage to the Italian town of Greccio during Advent 2019 to sign an apostolic letter on the meaning and importance of the Nativity scenes at the place where Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Nativity scene in 1223.

the letter, Admirabile signum, recalled the history of the first living crib of Saint Francis, or crib. The saint asked a friend 15 days before Christmas to help him prepare to “bring to life” the memory of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.

“When Saint Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey,” wrote the Pope. “Everyone present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist in the manger, showing the link between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist.

“In Greccio there were no statues; the crib was played and experienced by all who were present.

Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of Saint Francis, wrote that a person present at Mass had a vision of the infant Jesus himself lying in the manger.

Pope Francis wrote: “In a special way, from its Franciscan origins, the manger has invited us to ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ the poverty that the Son of God took upon himself in the Incarnation. Implicitly, he calls us to follow him on the path of humility, poverty and self-denial which leads from the manger in Bethlehem to the cross.

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