Touring the Nacimientos

La Antigua’s nativity scenes are as beautiful as they are varied

For centuries, all over the world artistic expressions of the birth of Jesus have touched people of all ages and stages, the right and the poor, the merry and the melancholy, the proud and the profane. Surely you find yourself in there somewhere. So this month treat your senses and your spirit to a do-it-yourself tour of the nacimientos in the churches of La Antigua Guatemala.

If you say, “They’re all the same,” you might be surprised. The basic group includes Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds … whoops! Not all have shepherds. Surely there’s always a sheep? Nope.

Angels? Not always. Cattle lowing, a star on high, wise men from afar? Maybe, maybe not.

Visiting nacimientos in Antigua’s churches provides a very pleasant and provocative pre-Christmas pastime. Because we tend to overlook what is common to us (who visits a museum most, a tourist or a local?), it could be easy to take a look at one nacimiento, the closest or most convenient and no more. Hint: Do yourself a favor; look a little further this year.

Antigua church nacimientos reflect the economics and culture of the particular parish. In years past the cathedral’s nacimiento could have been called elegant, Escuela de Cristo’s pastoral and Hermano Pedro’s simple—and simply painted, while life-size figures at the cathedral and San Francisco were luxuriously robed. Escuela de Cristo had a country scene with three large, fluffy sheet and no kings, but two women drawing or carrying water. The three kings at Hermano Pedro rode horses.

Calvario had 10 animals in a setting that gave a sense of an open plain. San Francisco offered a walk-through cave complete with waterfall, while a music box played “We wish you a Merry Christmas.”

The action was in the sky at the cathedral with great-winged, flying angels, some playing trumpets.

Yet more life-size angels at the cathedral were standing or sitting on bales of hay, but no shepherds, no animals. And all the faces were pale. La Merced also had flying angels, completely gilded, hovering over the nacimiento given the most prominent place of all, just behind the altar.

A second nacimiento at La Merced, toward the back of the church, included a model of the town of Antigua with a river flowing around it. Water played a role in several nacimientos, and most sparkled with tiny, twinkling lights. Other materials used were pine needles, strings of crabapples, palm branches, moss, sand, lace, velvet, sheets of heavy brown paper, crumpled and molded, then painted or gilded.

The nacimientos are beautiful, creative gifts of love of each congregation. They invite you to come and see. Stay awhile, long enough to look intentionally. The rest is up to you.

Seen one, seen ‘em all? Not so with the nacimientos.

Don’t miss viewing them this Christmas season!

La Merced (Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes)
6ª avenida norte & 1ª calle poniente

San Francisco El Grande
7ª calle oriente & 1ª avenida sur

Escuela de Cristo
Calle de los Pasos & Calle de Belén

La Ermita de el Calvario
Southern extreme of Alameda de El Calvario (the road leads farther on to the villages of San Cristóbal El Bajo, San Gaspar Vivar, San Juan del Obispo, & Santa María de Jesús).

Obras Sociales Hermano Pedro
6a calle oriente #20 (between 3a and 4a avenida), across from Parque de la Unión

San José Catedral
Central Park

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