December 21, 2006

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


visit guided tour to exhibition "A BELÉN PASTORES! HISTORICAL BELENES IN NAVARRA!

Dr. Ricardo Fernández Gracia.
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

Among the various forms of expression of Christmas over the centuries, literature and music stand out, in their popular and cultured versions, as well as gastronomy and, of course, nativity scenes.

The origins of the nativity scene must be related, more than with the laconic news of the Gospel story, with the apocrypha and, above all, with the Christmas theater that had a wide development since the times of the Age average, in spite of the prohibitions of Innocent III. A singular milestone in the history of the Nativity Scene was the staging that St. Francis of Assisi devised on Christmas Eve 1223, with papal permission, in Greccio. The Franciscans, in their male and female branches, became the apostles of such a singular custom, combining naturalistic and symbolic aspects in the stagings.

A nativity scene is not only Christmas iconography. It is not, therefore, paintings, sculptures or engravings of the cycle of Christ's infancy. It is a three-dimensional and scenographic representation of the birth of Christ, made with mobile figures, on a fixed stage that is set up for the Christmas season. They are usually ephemeral and seasonal constructions, a small, reduced and static universe that houses people, animals and houses.

In this sample you can see examples, in tune with the Hispanic world, from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. At the end of the 19th century, historicist and orientalist currents displaced all those figures that represented men and women from other regions, with typical costumes and offerings of a typically pre-industrial society. 

The content of the exhibition is organized in four main sections: "In the hidden Navarre", "Festive microcosm", "The pre-industrial society in the popular nativity scene" and "Next to the nativity scene". In the first one you can contemplate different nativity scenes and showcases of the cloistered women's monasteries of Navarre, especially the one of the Augustinian Recollect Nuns of Pamplona, which is being exhibited in Pamplona for the second time. The first took place 230 years ago, when the nuns placed it, as a precious piece, at the doors of their church, on the occasion of the inauguration procession of the chapel of the Virgen del Camino, in 1776. A handwritten chronicle of the procession celebrated on that occasion tells us in this regard: "In the corner of the tower of San Lorenzo towards the Taconera, the Recollect Mothers placed a very high altar. The objects of this altar were Our Lady of the Señora de la Concepción and San Agustín. The riches of that altar had no rate, were in symmetry and had so much to amuse, that the curious ones the curious did not stop for as long as they could manage. On the roof, which was a kind of solio, they placed the nativity scene, which they have very special, with animals very strange and perfect animals, which caused admiration.....".

The second and third sections show groups and figures that speak for themselves of the festive microcosm that those three-dimensional representations of the birth of Christ became. All the pieces are an expression of yesteryear, from the oldest examples to the nativity scene of Don Julio Caro Baroja himself. They are very different from the nativity scenes we see today, in which the supposed types and architectures of that Palestine of twenty centuries ago take precedence. On the contrary, in the traditional and popular nativity scenes that can be seen in the exhibition, the protagonism corresponds to farmers and people who practiced the trades of the pre-industrial society and wore clothes that were postponed decades ago by the progress and the concentration of the population in the big cities.

Finally, the section entitled "Junto al belén" (Next to the Nativity Scene) exhibits traditional percussion instruments, ornamental medallions staff, scores and lyrics of Christmas carols, a series of Christmas readings, rhetorical formulas to congratulate Christmas at Easter and eighteenth-century recipes for making marzipan and nougat, published in the Pamplona presses of the Age of Enlightenment.