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Maker of modern Vatican Nativity scene: It wasn't our intention to be irreverent

The Vatican's Nativity scene this year is different than usual. Its forms are less realistic than in other years. That's because it's from Teramo, an Italian region famous for its ceramics, a material that is difficult to mold into natural shapes.

Liceo Artistico Francesco Antonio Grué

“Ceramic is a very rigid material. Its molecular structure resembles that of steel, but it's even more rigid than steel. However, this isn't the reason for the statues' shapes.”

The reason is that the statues were made by a group of students from the Francesco Antonio Grué school of art. Years ago, the government proposed that they create a series of figures based on a geometric shape, so they chose the cylinder.

Liceo Artistico Francesco Antonio Grué

“The cylinder was the most simple and intuitive base. That's why the entire Nativity scene uses this shape. At the Vatican, there are 19 statues, but in reality, 54 were made.”

Another interesting fact explains why an astronaut appears among the other characters, to the surprise of many pilgrims.

That's because the Nativity scene was built by art students in the 60s and 70s.

Liceo Artistico Francesco Antonio Grué

“The astronaut was made because the students were so excited about man's arrival to the moon in 1969; they wanted to include him in the Nativity scene. Of course, seeing the astronaut there today, alone, out of context, might give a sense of irreverence, but that wasn't the intention.”

The Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square is the product of a combination of two things: the tradition of ceramics in Teramo and the creativity of a group of students from more than four decades ago.

It seems that the artists carried out their work well, since the final product remains relevant even more than 50 years later.

Every year, the Vatican invites a different region or country to organize the Nativity scene in the square. It's a way to make local cultures known, and to maintain a constant dialogue between them. It's also a way to save resources.

Every year, the pope visits the Nativity scene on Dec. 31. It's an opportunity for him to be with the people, though this year will be different because of the health emergency. Pope Francis will most likely visit it, but without the presence of pilgrims.

Javier Romero
Translation: CT