The oldest sculptural nativity in the world is in Rome, kept inside the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Not everyone knows that the construction of the first inanimate crib was commissioned to the artist Arnolfo di Cambio by Pope Niccolò V for the Chapel of the Sacrament of one of the four papal basilicas, between 1290 and 1291. The goal was both to pay homage and make the animated crib that St. Francis had conceived in the town of Greccio in 1223 shine, which honored the sacred relics kept in the Basilica, the tables of the manger in which Jesus was deposed on Christmas night. For this reason, the Basilica on the Esquiline Hill is also known as the Sancta Maria ad Praesepe. The sculptural work consists of four marble groups representing the Virgin and the Child, St. Joseph and the Three Wise Men, the donkey and the ox. The remaining figures, transferred at the end of the sixteenth century to the crypt behind the Chapel of the Sacrament, present at least four points of view and, precisely for this reason, it is thought that, originally, the characters were arranged among themselves in such a way as to involve the spectator to let him enter the scene itself. Certainly, paying tribute to Saint Francis and the celebrity of his animated nativity scene, Arnolfo di Cambio created an important work not only for being the first sculptural apparatus on the theme but also because his creation is an expression of that passage in progress from artistic beauty to need for realism started in those years.
BASILICA OF SANTA MARIA MAGGIORE. Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore. Admission: museum visit €3, reduced €2.Loggia delle Benedizioni + Sala dei Papi + Scala del Bernini €5 (visit with internal guide lasting 30/35 minutes); Full archaeological excavations €5, reduced €4 (visit with internal guide lasting 30/35 minutes); Visit to the Basilica with an internal guide €5 every last Saturday of the month. Information: Tel. 0669886800.