Monday, December 14, 2015

Presepio: an ancient tradition.

In this season of Advent, here in Rome, my mind goes to one of our best Christmas traditions: the Presepio (coming from the Latin word for "cradle"): the Roman nativity scene is somewhat more simple than its Neapolitan counterpart, but I also believe it is more refined. It is usually set in Roman streets and piazzas or the countryside and it never fails to host ancient ruins, recalling nineteenth century Rome.
The characters feature people of all sorts: fishermen, shepherds and there are also little markets, farms and wineries and so forth. 
The best Roman cribs are to be found in the city’s churches. As children all Romans used to go with their parents or grandparents to see these marvels.
The first presepio in Rome (and the world) is that of Arnolfo di Cambio in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major - donated by the first Franciscan pope in the late XIII century. A remarkable story considering that the Christmas crib has been invented by Saint Francis!
Many Romans have great presepios in their very homes, enriched through the years with pieces sold in the Piazza Navona Christmas market, where local artisans would sell their beautiful works.
The best cribs in Roman churches are those at SS. Cosma e Damiano, Santa Barbara dei Librari and especially that at Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

This is the 1291 presepio by Arnolfo di Cambio in St. Mary Major.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Late XIX century crib at Santissimi Apostoli with almost life-sized figures

1858 crib at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the background was painted by a friar in 1828.

Sant'Eustachio, with the reproduction of the famous square and churches.

The French crib at San Luigi.

The lovely cribs at Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Sant'Agnese in Agone in the Piazza Navona.

The huge XVIII Neapolitan crib at Santi Cosma e Damiano, it represents Rome (then).

Santa Barbara de' Librai, the crib is modelled after the actual piazza and the church.


A corner of Rome in the crib of San Marcello.

And now it is time for mine own Roman presepios!

Smaller one with larger characters.

My Roman crib.


  1. This is just wonderful - visiting the Roman presepi in the churches was one of the highlights of Christmas in Rome. Well travelled and documented - super pictures!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed my post, thank you!