The nativity scenes in Venice
Among the many Venetian customs, a walk among the nativity scenes in the various churches of the city is a must-see.
Traditionally, a nativity scene or crèche (French word meaning “nursery”) is a depiction of the birth of Jesus, derived from medieval traditions.
The Italian term “presepe” comes from the Latin “praesaepe”, meaning manger, as well as the paddock where goats and sheep are sheltered.
Its first representation goes back to St. Francis of Assisi who, in Greccio (Central Italy) in 1223, set up the first living representation of the Nativity. In the figurative arts, the first sculpted nativity scene we know of is preserved in the Basilica of Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen) in Bologna. The biggest boom in nativity scene production, however, took place in the 1700′s, when the great traditions are born: the Neapolitan, the Genoese and the Bolognese nativity scenes are still famous today. It is said that, in the XVIII century, Naples unleashed a real competition between families over who had the most beautiful nativity: aristocrats would dedicate entire rooms of their mansions to them!
This tradition spread all over Italy, and is still alive today; of course, it is also very cherished in Venice.
One of the largest and most fascinating nativity scene in the City is in the San Trovaso Church: a giant nativity scene with plenty of lights and flowing water, built entirely by hand by a local retiree: poetry and tradition blend in this masterpiece.
Not far away, you can admire the historic nativity scene set up in the Church of the Frari : sometimes placed outdoors, sometimes within the wonderful basilica, this nativity scene has a unique mystic charm. Realistic in every detail, many of the characters featured in it, such as the cobbler and the potter, are moved by mechanical devices.
Changing sestiere, in Cannaregio, in the Church of Mary Magdalene – which is worth a visit in itself, for its unusual circular architecture — there is an annual exhibition of works from the farthest parts of the world: nativity scenes from the Neapolitan tradition, with typical settings and familiar scenes, intersect with works all the way from Russia, for example, depicting its princely palaces.
These are just some of the great nativity scenes that can be encountered in Venetian churches: we encourage you to take a walk among them, and wish you a fun time!