God in the Arts - DECEMBER

For 2018, the Rev Michael Burgess is exploring symbols of the Christian faith as found in works of art.

Catalan Nativity


 ‘He gave us eyes to see them’ - a Catalan artist's nativity in Barcelona

In January we began this course exploring signs and symbols with the Cross: a sign of death, but also a sign of victory. We end the year with a sign that proclaims birth and new life: the crib of Christmas. In December cribs will be set up in churches, homes, villages and town centres. It is a tradition that goes back to the nativity scene in a cave outside Greccio in Italy on Christmas Eve, 1223. St Francis of Assisi invited all the people to a service there to remind them of a truth they had either forgotten or neglected: that Love came down at Christmas. We are told that as they looked inside the cave and saw the crib with the ox and ass, St Francis prayed and took up the infant Christ in his arms. Christ was ‘the peaceful, tender and loving brother,’ a vulnerable baby needing affection and care.

The simplicity and the beauty of that nativity scene is portrayed in this 12th century painting by an anonymous Catalan artist in a museum in Barcelona. Cribs were often very elaborate and ornate creations, bejewelled and decorated with episodes from our Lord’s life. Here the scene is ordinary with few details. The haloes around the heads of Mary and the Christ-Child may look a little odd, but the artist and St Francis are at one in proclaiming a sign of life and love in this birth.

Each Christmas we are called to kneel before the crib with the animals and the shepherds.  A 13th century Franciscan invites us to ‘Gaze on the face of the babe with devotion…and delight in Him.’ May we see the light of God’s love in the new-born babe as we look into the crib, and may we delight to offer our hearts and lives in His service.


'God in the Arts' is produced courtesy of Parish Pump