“And so it was, that, while they were
there, the days were accomplished that she should be
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him
in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because
there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk 2, 6-7)
The portrayal of the birth of Jesus,
as imparted to us by the Gospel, began in early times.
The first Christmas drawing, made in the 4th century AD,
depicts the infant Jesus with his mother Mary.
Nevertheless the illustrations were rare and to be found
mostly on sarcophagi.
In the year 1223 AD, St. Francis
staged the nativity scene in a very detailed manner. He
celebrated the Christmas Mass in front of a wooden
manger and with a living ox and donkey. By doing this he
gave people a better understanding of the birth of
The nativity scene has always captivated people around
the world. Jesus was born by a simple woman and as son
of a poor family. The poverty and the natural birth of
God’s son enabled people to feel that he was one of
them. They could identify with him. But the contrast
between rich and poor, embodied by the kings and
shepherds, is insignificant facing God’s son. All kneel
down and worship the newborn child.
Since the 13th century Jesuits and Franciscans
successfully spread the idea of the nativity scene all
over the world: numerous nativity plays have been
performed, mangers have been put in front of the altar,
frescos have been made, as well as paintings and
carvings with the Nativity as their subject.
In Alto Adige/South Tyrol portraying
the Nativity has a long tradition; the first portrays
can be found on ancient manuscripts and seals. The
famous Christmas scenes in the chapels of the castels
“Schloss Tirol” and “Hocheppan” as wells as in the
cloister “Via Crucis” in Brixen date from the early
Gothic period. An important fresco dating from the later
Gothic period can be seen in the St. Jacob Church in Val
Gardena. All those representations as well as the many
Nativity altars in Alto Adige/South Tyrol are the
precursors of the actual nativity scenes.
During the Age of Enlightenment, the
nativity scenes were banned from churches and
monasteries. Yet the faithful did not want to abandon
their loved nativity scenes; they put them into their
home with no further ado. That’s how the nativity scene
found its way into farmhouses and mansions. Craftsmen
and farmers started to produce those family nativity
scenes. Especially in Val Gardena, where for an
additional income many farmers spent their time carving
during the cold winter months, a great artistry quickly
developed. Although at their beginnings rather primitive
those first carved nativities “flew” of the shelves and
are today of great historical, cultural and artistic
Over the years the woodcarvers of Val
Gardena became master craftsmen and the sacred art
became much more popular. Numerous workshops were opened
and the valley almost had a monopoly in the creation of
carved wooden nativity scenes, which were exported all
around the world.
The oldest preserved nativity scene from Val Gardena
seems to be a Baroque carving from the Vinazer workshop
depicting the Adoration of the Magi. This master piece
of Baroque art was created in the 18th century and
displayed for decades in the St. Jacob Church in Val
Gardena. Today it is preserved in the museum of Ortisei.
In the 20th century several styles develop in the art of
nativity carving. Those styles range from folksy,
traditional and classic to modern and figurative. Some
sculptors even reached an abstract, artistic level.
The tradition of the carving of nativity scenes, which
was cultivated and developed over four centuries in Val
Gardena, still has an important place within the local
woodcarving activities and can be admired in exhibitions
around the world.
But a nativity scene from the
workshops of the woodcarving manufacturers association
Gardena Art is above all a precious family property,
which gives Christmas a special glamour every year. The
trademark GARDENA ART guarantees the quality and origin
of the family’s nativity in Val Gardena.
A GARDENA ART nativityis a
precious and ageless symbol of unity and peace.