What is the meaning of the baby Jesus

crib From the baby Jesus to the three wise men

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Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, plus the three wise men - and also ox and donkey should not be missing: where does the tradition of the nativity scene come from to look at and act out?

From: Isabelle Auerbach

Status: 07.01.2018 | archive

The baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the ox and the donkey and the three wise men. Sometimes shepherds with sheep join them - whether carved from linden or Swiss stone pine, whether gold-plated, painted with oil paints, glazed or natural. These figures belong in our nativity scene like the decorated Christmas tree in the living room.

But that was not always the case, because until about 400 years ago the nativity scenes were only set up in churches and not in living rooms. In the 17th century, the South Tyrolean mountain farmers from Val Gardena began to carve nativity scenes out of wood during the winter. They made the Holy Family on their workbenches and added many wooden animals and nativity stalls to their wooden figures. The nativity scenes found their way into many private houses, where they delight large and small nativity collectors to this day.

The first living nativity scene

This depiction of the escape of Mary on the donkey with the baby Jesus in her arms is very old: the model comes from the Gothic. We have to go back further in history, to the very beginning of the cribs. Presumably it was the saint in 1223 Francis of Assisiwho for the first time recreated the Christmas story from the Bible with living people and animals. To do this, he chose a manger in a forest near the Greccio monastery. Why? In this way, he wanted to illustrate the history of the Bible to all those who could not read.

By the way, ox and donkey weren't part of it, because they don't even appear in the Christmas story from the Bible. About 70 years later, an Italian sculptor erected the oldest nativity scene in the world in the Sistine Chapel in Rome: He modeled alabaster figures, a kind of plaster figure, on an altar.

The high phase for the wood carvers began in the middle of the 16th century, because not only the large Catholic churches from Munich to Innsbruck, but also the smaller churches and chapels were decorated with nativity scenes at Christmas time. At that time only the wooden figures of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus and ox and donkey filled the cribs. In the course of the 19th century, more and more figures were added such as the Three Kings Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar as well as many shepherds with their sheep. The stables were provided with a comet and an annunciation angel.

Today's nativity scenes

Today there are traditional and modern cribs in many different designs, for example oriental with camels or Peruvian with colorful ponchos, woolen hats and alpacas and even some from a well-known toy manufacturer with plastic figurines! But whether natural, glazed, painted or gilded - every nativity scene has its own magic.

Anyone interested in the history of nativity scenes should definitely go to the National Museum in Munich to see the most valuable nativity scene collection in the world - it runs from the beginning of November to the end of January. In addition to figures from Bavaria and Tyrol, many Christmas scenes from the most important nativity centers in Italy can be admired there.