Yes, I know, I’m the ever-disappearing blogger, here one day, gone the next. Sorry about that. You see, first there was this albatross of a book I needed to finish, and now I’ve moved straight into another book project for a Very Important Person Who Must Remain Nameless. That’s going to keep me quite tied up for the next couple of months, so I’ll only be popping in here and there until that’s wrapped up.
For now, however, in the spirit of Advent, I did want to share a piece that OSV is running this week that was inspired by my visit to Naples last year.
At the time of my visit, I was meditating on the theme of the book I was under contract to write (the one I just finished) and was struck by how beautifully the creches, or presepe, throughout the city reflected that theme. The theme is summed up in the forthcoming book’s title — Everyday Theology of the Body: Musings on the Mysteries and Manners of the Sacramental Worldview. It is, for lack of a better description, the non-sex Theology of the Body book, a series of meditations on the implications of the Incarnation and John Paul II’s teachings on the human person for work, friendship, prayer, manners, dress, eating, suffering, and lots of the other bits and pieces of life that take place outside the bedroom.
Anyhow, in the presepe of Naples, I saw the sacramental worldview carved into wood, and when I finally got around to writing the essay on what I saw, I tried to articulate that. Regardless of whether or not I succeeded, the presepe themselves are beautiful, and if you ever get the chance to walk along the Via Gregoria San Armeno during Advent, I recommend you take it…that is, unless you’re inordinately afraid of crowds or extremely tight spaces!
Here’s the essay:
By American standards, the Via San Gregorio Armeno wouldn’t even qualify as an alley. Measuring perhaps 5 feet across, it’s barely wide enough for three men to pass through it abreast. Yet come Advent, the little street in Naples, Italy, welcomes thousands of visitors from around the country and around the world every day.
The visitors come not because the street leads anywhere, but rather for the street itself. Or, more accurately, for the shops that line the street — hundreds of tiny workshops, where artisans and their assistants craft the presepe for which Naples is known.
The Americans who visit are inclined to call the presepe Nativity scenes, but that doesn’t do them justice. They are much more than that. They are more than Mary, Jesus and Joseph. More than oxen, donkeys and sheep. More even than shepherds, angels and wise men.
The presepe are entire villages, with butchers, bakers and candlestick makers all going about the business of their lives while the newly born Christ Child sleeps in their midst. In the houses and shops of the presepe, fires burn and candles gleam. Bread appears to bake. Wine stands ready for pouring. This is no silent night, but rather a night filled with love, laughter and life.
Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.