Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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traced back far earlier than their time. In the liturgical drama known as the " Officium Pastorum," which probably took shape in the eleventh century, we find a praesepe behind the altar as the centre of the action 4° j but long before this something of the kind seems to have been in existence in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome—at one time called " Beata Maria ad praesepe." Here Pope Gregory III. (731-41) placed "a golden image of the Mother of God embracing God our Saviour, in various gems."4i According to Usener's views this church was founded by Pope Liberius (352-66), and was intended to provide a special home for the new festival of Christmas introduced by him, while an important part of the early Christmas ritual there was the cele­bration of Mass over a " manger " in which the consecrated Host was laid, as once the body of the Holy Child in the crib at Beth-lehem.42 Further, an eastern homily of the late fourth century suggests that the preacher had before his eyes a representation of the Nativity. Such material representations, Usener conjectures, may have arisen from the devotions of the faithful at the supposed actual birthplace at Bethlehem, which would naturally be adorned with the sacred figures of the Holy Night.43
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the crib can be traced at Milan, Parma, and Modena, and an Italian example carved in 1478 still exists.44 The Bavarian National Museum at Munich has a fine collection of cribs of various periods and from various lands — Germany, Tyrol, Italy, and Sicily — showing what elaborate care has been bestowed upon the preparation of these models. Among them is a great erection made at Botzen in the first half of the nineteenth century, and large enough to fill a fair-sized room. It represents the central square of a town, with imposing buildings, including a great cathedral not unlike our St. Paul's. Figures of various sizes were provided to suit the perspective, and the crib itself was probably set up in the porch ot the church, while processions of puppets were arranged on the wide open square. Another, made in Munich, shows the adoration of the shepherds in a sort of ruined castle, while others, from Naples, lay the scene among remains of classical temples. One Tyrolese crib has a wide landscape background with a
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