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Presepe Vivente

The gradually evolving form of the event goes under the blanket description of “tradition” and is therefore a difficult animal to pin down

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The Presepe Vivente is one of those traditional events which happen in Barga once a year  where it would seem that the whole city is taking part, either as a participant or  just a viewer.

In fact the Presepe Vivente depends very heavily on the weather as  inclement weather sometimes means that the high spot of the Christmas calendar has to be cancelled , as in 2009 and 2010 and so today all eyes were on the weather forecast.

Finally all the work and preparation that goes into  putting on an event of this size and complexity came to a triumphant conclusion with more than 200 people – “figuranti” taking part and many hundreds more enjoying the event to the full.

So, what actually is the Prespe Vivente ?  a simple question but quite a complex answer is needed to get anywhere near to explaining  as quite often with traditional events some of the original reasons and methods behind why an event is made or performed in that particular form are not clear.

Now in its 36th year, the gradually evolving form of the event goes under the blanket description of  “tradition” and is therefore a difficult animal to pin down.

Just by looking at the images in this article, it is possible to see that it is a historical event with Mary and Joseph as central figures moving through a mediaeval town but what is not clear is at what precise date in history the couple are appearing.

Looking at them the date should be somewhere around zero.  The Roman centurions and census takers (speaking in Latin) would seem to confirm that date but just before Mary and Joseph and their donkey arrived in the census room, their first port of call was to a schoolroom with desks and chairs, pupils and a teacher all meticulously wearing clothes dating from probably the 1930′s. Outside of the school two guards stand both dressed as soldiers from the 16th century.

As they then make their way through Barga  Vecchia,  they stop and rest outside the cellars and cantinas of millers, stonemasons,  people making sausages,  carpenters,  charcoal makers and cobblers  all dressed in clothes from the turn of the 1900′s.

Strangely enough it is quite believable,  there she is, Mary with her husband Joseph standing patiently at her side as they stop for a few minutes in an authentic looking cantina with women sewing  sheets in the dim light behind them.  Even the passing of two men in full Centurion costume somehow or other does not shake or disturb the scene.

Eventually they make their way up to the Duomo where in a stable,  miracle of miracles, a live baby appears in the arms of Mary followed moments later by the arrival of three Kings arriving bearing gifts just as a rocket is fired up into the night sky.

Is it a star or a comet ?  What ever it is,  it means that the Presepe Vivente are once more  finished for the year and hopefully next year,  weather permitting, will be back even more baffling, beguiling,  exciting,  and above all – moving.


Images from the annual presepe vivente from past years can be seen here – Le immagini delle passate edizioni del presepe vivente possono essere viste qui;
 | 20152014 | 2012 |  2011 |  2008 |  2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2000

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