What Lovely Cribs You Have!

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The tradition of the nativity scene dates back to the 11th century, when the first spiritual plays on the life of Christ were enacted. Franciscus of Assisi was the first to set up a live nativity scene in 1233: he brought an ox and a donkey to a forest cave, and gave the Christmas midnight mass right there. The first nativity scene in Slovenia was set up in 1644 by the Jesuits at St. Jacob’s Church in Ljubljana. Soon other churches began setting up nativity scenes with painted figures sawn out of boards. The gentry and the bourgeoisie joined in the 18th century, although they preferred to place the scenes in their closets. In the 19th century, farmers started setting up nativity scenes in “God’s corners”; their cribs were made from paper, wood, plaster or clay. Because the figurines required more space, they were eventually transferred from the closets and “God’s corners” onto chests of drawers or set below the Christmas tree. Arranging the nativity scene and decorating the Christmas tree were the children’s tasks. A Continuous Source of Artistic Inspiration Despite the secularization of Christmas, artists, craftsmen and others around the world keep re-creating the nativity scene. At the “With Christmas Cribs into the Advent Season” exhibition currently being held at the Slovene Ethnographic Museu m in Ljubljana, one can see more than 60 nativity scenes by Slovenian artists. It is amazing to see the creative ways in which they displayed this well-known story. There are numerous wooden Christmas cribs, fretted both in the traditional way and the modern way, i.e. taking more liberty with the shapes of figurines. Several cribs were carved into tree trunks, and the most astonishing display is the crib carved into a giant tree stump. There are also cribs made from beeswax, cardboard, clay, silver, crystal and brass. The most exotic ones – and we reckon the most difficult to make – are the crocheted Christmas cribs, a couple of cribs made from straw and maize husks, cribs made with Idrian bobbin lace and cribs made with thread; there are even ginger bread cribs. In some places – like at the famous Postojna Cave – there is a live nativity scene with amateur actors and actresses, accompanied by Baroque music. Jesulus Pragensis The veneration of the Holy Infant was widespread in the 17th and 18th centuries in all Central European countries. In pilgrim centres, pious crowds prayed to various representations of the Holy Infant; even European sovereigns laid their hopes and gifts at the feet of the Merciful Holy Infant of Prague, which has been kept in Prague by the Carmelite nuns since the 17th century. The skill of making wax figurines was mastered by nuns in European convents and was passed on from one convent to another. This was also the case in Slovenia, where the Holy Infant was venerated by the Poor Clares and the Carmelite and Ursuline nuns. The latter particularly venerated the Holy Infant of Prague, to whom they prayed for the good health of their students, for new priests and for novices in monasteries and convents. Some of their wax figurines can be seen at the “Jesulus Pragensis: The Holy Infant of Prague and Other Wax Figurines” exhibition at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum in Ljubljana. The collection was borrowed from the Slovene Museum of Religion and shows an exceptional collection of forty lavishly dressed wax figurines, representing Baby Jesus. It is the largest collection of its kind in Slovenia, comparable to similar European collections. Most of the beautifully modelled wax figurines have on richly embroidered costumes, crowns and other accessories. The items were entrusted to the museum by the Ursuline nuns from Skofja Loka in the early 1990’s. The majority were in badly damaged condition before undergoing research and restoration.