The art of nativity scenes revives with the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi in Cartagena

Participants of the last workshop make palm trees for their nativity scenes.

Setting up the nativity scene is not just about putting up a few figures when Christmas is approaching. For the members of the Asociación Belenista de Cartagena, setting up the nativity scene is the last step in a process that begins months ago, searching for new pieces and making others. They spend weeks planning the new acquisitions that they will incorporate into their recreations, creating the structure they need and cannot find, and scouring shops to locate the longed-for figure. As its president, Antonio Ferrer Giménez, explains, “the work can be seen at Christmas, but we do it all year round”.

When a small circle of nativity scene makers decided to take up the activity again in Cartagena, their initial idea was to recover the Cartagena-La Unión nativity scene association. However, due to bureaucratic problems they could not take the same name and had to register a new organisation.

In order to deseasonalise this hobby, they organise workshops, talks and various activities, such as excursions throughout the year. They also make dioramas, three-dimensional representations of a historical event and scenes from the Passion of Christ, such as those exhibited at Easter in the windows of several shops in the centre of Cartagena. One of the activities they organised a few weeks ago was a workshop to learn how to make palm trees. According to Ferrer, “we nativity scene makers are willing to teach, because if you don’t do it, you are not a nativity scene maker”.

 

A group of nativity scene enthusiasts has re-founded the organisation to promote workshops, excursions and exhibitions.

For the coming year, the association plans to acquire a venue in which to hold its workshops and activities, as well as its conferences. It is a need that the Town Hall has already taken note of and to which they are already looking for a solution, but they have not yet found a solution to the lack of a place to meet for their activities and workshops. They also want it as a meeting place for their members to produce the figures they need for their own collections.

Another of the activities they organised at the end of November was the XXVII Jornada de Convivencia Belenista. Other associations also took part, such as El Pinacho de Santa Lucía. This year, this collective closes the year with fifty members, with more than twenty new registrations. “We have members of all ages,” says the president of the association, which is just under 30 years old. Next year they hope to continue to grow and increase the number of members.

Ferrer Giménez believes that they must continue to grow and promote activities so that nativity scenes are not just something for Christmas. “We want to continue promoting activities throughout the year,” he says.

Nativity scenes are a passion that in some cases takes them a lifetime to recreate the perfect setting. “There are times when we receive people who, for reasons of space, can only put up one nativity scene, but this scenery is renewed every year”, stresses the president of this group. “It’s not just about setting up the nativity scene”, he adds, “it’s also about expanding the different passages from the Bible”. For this very reason, the nativity scene makers incorporate more scenes, such as the persecution of Herod or the flight to Egypt.

This year, in the run-up to Christmas, they have produced a physical bulletin in which they tell the story of several local artisans. It is available free of charge. Currently, anyone who wishes can visit the exhibition ‘The Legacy of San Francisco: 800 years of Nativity Scenes’, in the Dora Catarineu hall until 21 January. According to Ferrer Giménez, “we nativity scene makers never stop learning, and we are always willing to teach”,

“The person who keeps his techniques to himself is not a true nativity scene maker, because we are constantly training”. To avoid this, they organise workshops and conferences in which they exchange views and talk about the techniques that each one uses.

Routes around the municipality
On Friday 22 December, coinciding with the Christmas lottery draw, at seven o’clock in the evening, a floral offering was made to San Francisco de Asís in the Plaza Juan XXIII, and an hour later, at eight o’clock, there was a Eucharist followed by the Exaltation of Christmas, given by Antonio Navarro Zamora. The San Diego Choir took part, in the church of San Antonio María Claret, located in Jabonerías street.

The Nativity Association collaborates in these dates with excursions to the nativity scenes of the municipality, such as those of Santa Lucía and Galifa, yesterday, with a guided bus route. There are two different routes, which are sponsored free of charge by the Department of Culture upon registration. They themselves organised an excursion to the Salzillo Museum in Murcia, the Casa del Belén and the Jesús Griñán Workshops in the district of Puente Tocinos, which included a meal in a peña huertana. Its activities are aimed at both its members and the general public who wish to participate.

 

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