“From the stars to a cave, you descended King of Heaven, not worrying about the cold and frost because you were driven by the love/ of the Holy Father , you left the sweet womb to lie on this hay, so humble and suffering”. This is the incipit of a Christmas chant sung by the young women of Cerqueto for the Midnight Mass, during the kissing of the statue of the Baby Jesus. From the outset this song has accompanied the Living Nativity Scene, re-enacted by the whole community of the small village of shepherds and carders lying at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain, surrounded by evocative and imposing scenery, well illuminated for the occasion, between the rocks and the woods that dominate the village. The comet goes over a stretch of mountain, burning with light while the Magi approach slowly to the stable to extend their devout greeting.
A colossal collective re-enactment that involves all the inhabitants of Cerqueto, the Living Nativity Scene was invented by Don Nicola Jobbi at the end of 1966, inspired by some conversations with other local priests and with the community leaders of the nearby Pietracamela, the village in which the play was initially intended to be performed. Organizational disagreements drove the parish priest to propose putting on the Nativity Play in Cerqueto, where the enthusiasm and heartfelt participation of the local population favoured the success of the first edition and confirmed its popularity over the decades that followed, when the scenery, the script and the soundtrack were gradually enriched. According to the testimony of Don Jobbi the first Madonna was chosen by Roberto Leydi, when he went to the village for the first time on New Year’s Day 1966 to meet the parish priest and make recordings together with Diego Carpitella.
Over the years the Living Nativity Scene has given the community an opportunity for creating a sense of belonging as they come together to re-enact the events narrated in the Holy Scriptures, from the Creation to the Advent of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi, in a unique setting that transfigures the natural landscape into a mythical and inspirational environment, as the mountain is ,to all effects, a place which lends itself to religious revelation, the ideal location for bringing to life the interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, every year the villagers take on the roles of St Joseph, the Virgin, the angels and the shepherds, the Lord of Creation the Three Kings and Herod’s soldiers , and they experience a process of cyclical identification with the key figures of the narrative.
The name that the community originally chose to give to the Living Nativity Scene, “The Mystery of the Nativity – A biblical-folkoristic event”, today also called “a religious historic re-enactment”, betrays the ambivalence of an event marked by religious elements but experienced as a profane performance or, vice versa, a play that acquires the functions of a real ritual that models the community on the basis of an exemplary story experienced in the first person as a gigantic rite of passage and the annunciation of a new world.
The bishops of the Diocese of Teramo have presided over many editions, imparting their blessing, and local newspapers have written articles with headlines like “Cerqueto becomes Bethlehem for a night”. The baby boy or girl, identified with the King of Heaven, is selected from among the newborns in the town. The stable of the Nativity – a big hut built on the spot and visible throughout the year – is therefore in Cerqueto and there remains firmly rooted. The Cerqueto shepherds attend the birth of “Jesus” with their sheep and goats.
Even the sounds contribute to bind together the sacred history, universal in the Christian world, with the particular life of the place; it was Don Jobbi himself, together with Bruno Misantoni and Federico Mastrodascio, who recorded the noises of wild animals at the Zoological Garden of Rome to play as sound effects accompanying the appearance of the first forms of life in the creation scene together with the bleating of a flock of sheep recorded in the mountains of Cerqueto.
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A nativity scene among the rocks
The rock face which dominates the town provides a beautiful natural backdrop to a scene from the nativity play.
Cerqueto di Fano Adriano (TE), 26 December 2017.
Video footage by Stefano Saverioni,
Don Nicola Jobbi Study Center Archive/Bambun.
Cultural transmission and preservation
The tradition of the Living Nativity Scene has been handed down for more than half a century, and it has evolved over time thanks to the constant addition of new scenic and technological installations, as well as lighting, choreography and narrative parts.
Promoted by the Pro-loco association of Cerqueto and directed by Angelo Mastrodascio, the Nativity Play involves the whole town in the performance phase, while an experienced local team coordinates and carries out all the preparation of the natural set in the month before the play. Initially only the inhabitants of Cerqueto were allowed to take part in the performance, but in recent years due to the progressive population decline, it has become necessary to open up participation to the neighbouring communities in order to be able to cover all the roles present in the story.
The actors move like extras, in synchrony with the movements of some mechanical figures operated electronically and with the chromatic dynamism imparted by the turning on and off of lights, while a recorded voice tells the story observed from the ridge of the mountain. In recent years, associations from the provincial capital, Fano Adriano, have also collaborated closely in the organization, managing the reception of the many curious and faithful who face the rigorous climate of December evenings and a road often covered in snow to reach the town and watch the play. The Living Nativity Scene has become a fixture of the winter season, supported by numerous institutions of the territory such as the National Park of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga and the BIM Consortium for the catchment area of the Vomano and Tordino rivers, and even the town council of Fano Adriano.
One of the most noteworthy actions of enhancement implemented by the Pro-loco association has been the decision to have the promotional poster designed by a different renowned local artist every year, acquiring the original work for the constitution of an authentic collection of representations of the Nativity.