Fostering cultural, intellectual, artistic and friendly exchanges between the French-speaking world and our local and regional communities.
The tradition of the nativity scene began in Italy sometime in 1223, possibly by Saint Francis of Assisi. Originally, live animals and people played the characters of theHoly Family and the Magi. In addition to these “live” nativity scenes, “inanimate” nativity scenes also began appearing with dolls and statues taking the place of people and animals. The tradition of the nativity spread across Europe and France until the French Revolution in 1789.
In France, prior to the revolution, Catholicism was the state religion. Afterwards, a power struggle endured between the new French government and the Catholic Church, resulting in the assets of the Church being confiscated and the end of all religious activities: no more masses and no more public nativity scenes.
The citizens of France, while supportive of the Revolution, were still religious and missed their nativity scenes at Christmas time. So, in southern France - and especially in Provence - people began making their own in the privacy of their homes. They made statues called “Santons” (meaning “little saints” in Provençal) from whatever materials were available - paper mache and breadcrumbs. Eventually in the late 1700’s, artisans began using clay to fabricate the santons. Most of the santons you see in this exhibit are from Provence and made from clay! Look closely at their lively facial expressions!
The “Manger” (La Crèche) had always been the centerpiece of these nativity scenes but over time, they became part of a larger landscape. Today, these scenes include the traditional 19th century Provençal people and their village activities, as well as the journey to the manger to visit the Christ child. Our exhibit titled “Noël en Provence” depicts such a scene! The buildings, goods and landscapes you see here were all handmade by members of The Alliance Française de Toledo.