popular neapolitan christmas
crib consists of a series of downhill slopes, suggesting to
the onlooker the idea of a trip, an extremely important trip
of which we shall presently
on various occasions. For the moment, the reader should start off
by getting familiar with the different people who inhabit the simple
structure made of cork.
bottom of the hills, on the plain that spreads under the mountain imagined above,
are three grottos : the centre one is where the Divine Child is born.
Main characters and basic
Benino, who sleeps : at
the top of the first slope; in any case always at the beginning of the itinery.
The Three Wise-Men on
horseback : Belshazzar, the old king; Caspar, the negro king; Melchior, the young
king. The horses : one white, one red, the third black.
The “Ciccibacco”, who
drives a carriage full of fireworks. He is coming out of one of the two grottos,
while in the other is situated the inn.
In their wanderings these
characters come to a bridge, which crosses a river.
The well is absolutely indispensable.
Usually, Benino sleeps in
At the entrance to the
nativity grotto, at both sides, the Bagpipe players : the oldest with the
“ciaramella” (a simple type of
bagpipes), the youngest with the traditional bagpipes.
And inside the grotto, of
course, the Madonna with Joseph and the Child, who must be placed
in the manger at midnight, when from the
nearby church the festive peals of the bells
are heard, ringing out sounds of glory.
Do not forget the ox and
the donkey, that of the entire scene is the most poetic element.
Then, the Angels, hovering
above in small groups.
And many, many animals, above all sheep.
All these characters and
elements can be found in the seventeenth century Cantata dei
Pastori by Andrea Perrucci.
Sometimes, at the top of
the mountain, someone even puts Herod’s castle and in this case there are
roman soldiers too. Therefore it is
also possible to represent the Slaughter of the Iinnocents.
For this last scene,
do not forget the importance of this symbol in the work of Nicolas Flamel,
which the tradition assures us, was
one of the few alchemists who managed to produce gold : Nicolas Flamel et
Perrenelle sa femme.
This page is an extract from a
publication of ours that saw the light almost 15 years ago (in limine, Naples
1987) : in that book, the symbolism that pervaded the various characters
and the other elements transpired
through the connections and
cross-references in other pages; we offered an even more ample exposition
in another work (Il sogno di Benino, Salerno, 1989), dedicated exclusively to
the common neapolitan christmas crib. In our successive analisis, we shall try
using a sistematic method, and we shall inevitably refer to these studies from
time to time, for which we ask our patient readers to bear with us.
19 marzo 2001,
in die festo quo colitur Beatus Joseph
patriarcha, Virginis Mariae
sacratissimus sponsus, Iesu Christi pueruli fidelissimus custos.