Creches from Peru

Gourd and Rooster
Angelica Silva

The village of Chulucanas in northern Peru produces its own brand of crafts, chulucanas art. The distinctive product or artifact are the charmingly rotund clay figures with their soft and satiny finish resulting from a firing process that uses smoldering mango leaves. The ancestor and model of these ample and portly figures is the gourd-like fruit of the calabash tree. Calabash shells, once used to represent human figures thanks to a carved little head added to the gourd, mutated over time to become the colorful and much sought-after clay sculptures like the ones in this nativity set. The prominently-featured rooster is a typical presence in Latin American nativity sets. It is a symbol of treason and reconciliation (Saint Peter) and, more generally, a harbinger of fertility.





Carved in Stone

From the land of rich and varied Christmas traditions, this work of exquisite quality is carved in the white stone of the Ayacucho area (Piedra de Huamanga). The whiteness of the stone and the graceful postures of the figures give this set weightlessness and transparency. The connoisseur of Peruvian crèche culture is used to heavier figures and darker colors from the Andes region. This set constitutes a welcome contrast in craftsmanship and meaning. Carved in stone does not necessarily mean monumental. Stone can be light and almost transparent. It is a symbol of weighty humanness made light and transparent by grace.



Taunting Heaven
Angelica Silva

If there was ever a mystery surrounding Christ's early dwelling among us, here it is disclosed and revealed. In terms of architecture, there is nothing left here but the bare bones. Calling this pergola housing would be a euphemism. The original meaning of pergola is that of a colonnade which supports an open roof of beams and poles. Here, the colonnade has dwindled to four poles only. Even Romulus and Remus had at least a solid roof over their heads; who else but the Son of God could be taunting heaven and getting away with it. The donkey seems to know. He is peacefully resting his tired limbs.



Portable Bliss
Huamani Mitma

All houses are receptacles of sort, but not all receptacles are houses. Another of the typical Peruvian representations comes in a painted box. Open during the season and on feastdays, it is also meant to be a traveling companion for people who need a portable altar. The expression of this nativity reenactment in painted plaster is one of pure bliss. A sea of hands is raised in praise of the Messiah, and musical instruments like harp, violin and castanet join in the joyous chorus. The baby with the red cap takes part in the general excitement, and even God Father has opened the curtain of heaven to become part of this portable bliss.



Spectacle for the Many
Unknown Artist

This bas relief of a three-story house is of typical Andino provenance. Looking like a mixture of Stratford-on-Avon and fancy apartment house, it has two ornate balconies literally overflowing with spectators. Their rounded heads and merry hats are glued to the railing in an effort to see what is happening on the landing at the entrance of the house. There we discover an unusual nativity scene. The little figures surrounding the Christ child his parents and the wise men each hold a hand to their face in utter amazement of the spectacle which only the eyes of the heart can see. Here, Christ is still the object of a joyful spectacle. Thirty-three years later it will be a spectacle of derision.



A Still, Small Voice
T. Acuna
Peru (Andes)

The Andes are assimilated with high altitude, towering snow-capped mountains, and endless valleys. Over a period of thousands of years many civilizations have flourished, hidden on the flanks of this vast mountain range. Adapting to the unique environment, Andean people learned to freeze-dry food, practiced irrigation and terracing to cultivate the semi-arid highlands, and kept herds of llamas and alpacas for wool and textiles. No doubt influenced by the immensity and majesty of the natural habitat, the religion of the natives bears the marks of mystery and the unknown. Awe, endless devotion and patient expectation were the mountain people's answer to the challenge of the unknown and the appeal of the mystery. Some of these reactions can be read on the faces of the crèche people. Dressed for the altiplano, and painted in the subdued colors of earthen brown, black, and white, these figures convey great stillness and intense presence. The original Christmas was surely a matter of great stillness and intense presence. Christmas today is, hopefully, a "still, small voice."



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