Holiday Cranberries

Cranberry, late 1800s-early 1900s. Firm of Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846-1920). Chalcedony, jade, rock crystal, gold; overall: 11.5 x 4.8 cm (4 1/2 x 1 7/8 in.).
Source: The Cleveland Museum of Art, The India Early Minshall Collection 1966.446 / CC0 1.0 public domain dedication

The Best Part of Thanksgiving and Christmas

Although ornate Fabergé eggs usually leave me cold, this sprig of cranberries made by the Fabergé firm is absolutely charming. Artfully devised from semi-precious stones and gold, they never wilt or shrivel. The deceptively simple piece immortalizes the humble berries.

This is just as it should be, since cranberry relish, cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, cranberry bread, and dried cranberries punctuating cookies or muffins are among my perennial favorites. Their cheery color and tangy flavor turn meals into celebrations. For me, they are a highlight of the year-end holidays.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and a festive holiday season filled with all the cranberries you can eat.

The Locus of Christmas

Jacques Callot’s Engravings of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 - 1635 ), Plan and Elevation of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 – 1635 ), Plan and Elevation of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 - 1635 ), Plan of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 – 1635 ), Plan of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

In 1619 the French artist Jacques Callot prepared numerous prints of sites in the Holy Land to accompany the second edition of the Franciscan Bernardino Amico’s Trattato delle piante & immagini de sacri edifizi di Terra Santa (Florence: Pietro Cecconcelli, 1620). The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and its adjacent monastic complex are documented in seven plates at the beginning of the volume. Callot’s engravings were based on Amico’s own architectural surveys performed in Jerusalem and Bethlehem during his five-year stay in the Holy Land from 1593-98.

A star in the pavement of the crypt-like lower level grotto in Callot’s image marks the traditional location where Jesus is said to have been born, just as is the case today – though the present star has fourteen points rather than the six depicted by Callot.

Amico intended the publication to serve as both an accurate antiquarian treatise on the holy sites as well as a devotional aid for pilgrims. Its function today can be similar, reminding us that the epicenter of Christmas is not the North Pole but rather at the heart of this rich architectural palimpsest in Bethlehem.

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Sources and Further Reading:

● UNESCO World Heritage listing description of the Church of the Nativity and Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

● Zur Shalev, “Christian Pilgrimage and Ritual Measurement in Jerusalem,” Preprint 384, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin: 11-15.

The traditional site of Jesus's birth in the grotto underneath the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The traditional site of Jesus’s birth in the grotto underneath the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The Madonna of the Manger

Christmas, San Gaetano and the Nativity in Theatine Churches

Gaetano_MMAA key episode in the life of San Gaetano Tiene, founder of the Theatine order, relates a mystic vision the saint experienced at Christmas 1517. While praying in the chapel of the Presepe – a relic believed to be the manger from Bethlehem – in Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, the Virgin and Child appeared to Gaetano, accompanied by a choir of angels. Encouraged by Saints Jerome and Joseph, Gaetano approached the Madonna. In an intimate gesture of trust, Mary then offered the Child to Gaetano to hold. This image of the Theatine saint cradling the infant Jesus in his arms, often with the Virgin and other saints looking on, or receiving the baby from Mary, is a major motif in the iconography of San Gaetano.

This mystic vision of their founder seems to have given the Theatines a particular affinity for Christmas devotions. In Paris the order presented a popular annual Christmas novena, the Couches de la Vièrge, a nine-day devotion beginning on 16 December and concluding on Christmas Eve. Members of the French court regularly attended, and a description in the Journal des Guerres Civiles of Dubuisson-Aubenay details one of the final days of this novena in 1648:

“At three o’clock the queen was at the church of Sainte-Anne-la-Royale of the Theatine fathers, which all of Paris comes to see because of the representations there in the form of a theater with perspective, at the back of which the Holy Sacrament from the altar is displayed. On one side is the emperor Augustus with his court, and on the other are mathematicians who describe the world according to the gospel: edixit edictum a Caesare Augusto ut describeretur universus orbis (Luke, chapter II).”

Such a novena was also practiced at the Theatine church in Messina, Santissima Annunziata, as a 1644 source reports:

“…during the nine days before the Holy Birth of the Lord, the anticipation of the delivery of the most Holy Virgin… they celebrate here with much solemnity, with expensive stage sets, full of infinite lights, not without interest and attendance of the public, who come to rejoice and contemplate the sacred mystery of the incarnation of the Word, represented here with the sweetest music.”

Both descriptions mention elaborate ephemeral apparatuses employed for the novena, and both emphasize the popular appeal of the sacred spectacle. While it is not clear whether San Gaetano’s vision played a role in the Paris devotions or the early ones reported in Messina, a musical Dialogo relating Gaetano’s episode at the manger surives in a published version, performed at the church in Messina to mark his canonization in 1671. The fourteen-page libretto, entitled I celesti fauori concessi a S. Gaetano Tiene…, calls for five characters – the Madonna, Gaetano, Charity, Humility, and Providence – accompanied by a choir. At the latest after Gaetano’s canonization, then, his mystic Christmas experience seems to have played a more prominent role within Theatine spirituality.

479px-Matteo_rosselli,_natività_di_CristoElsewhere in Italy, an explicit link between the general cult of the Nativity and specific reference to San Gaetano’s Christmas vision can be traced in Florence. There, a chapel dedicated to the Nativity was installed in the right transept at the Theatine church of San Michele in 1610. The dedication originated in a vision of the Virgin experienced by the chapel patron, Elisabetta Bonsi, the night of Christmas Eve 1602. The altarpiece of the Nativity was painted by Matteo Rosselli. In 1671, upon Gaetano’s canonization, an image of his mystic encounter at the manger in Santa Maria Maggiore was added to the wall opposite the chapel entrance. For the Theatines, the saint’s vision thus becomes another station in the iconographic cycle of the Nativity itself. Gaetano also became a co-patron of the entire church to mark his canonization: today it is officially Santi Michele e Gaetano, often known simply as San Gaetano.

Nativity chapel San Lorenzo Wikimedia CROPPED These two elements of Theatine Christmas devotion – general celebration of the Nativity, and specific commemoration of San Gaetano’s mystic vision – are joined by a third component at San Lorenzo in Turin. Guarino Guarini’s Theatine church (constructed 1670-1680) prominently features a chapel dedicated to the Nativity flanking its high altar to the left, donated by the Marchesa Camilla Bevilacqua Villa. The Marchesa was first lady in waiting to the duchess regent, Maria Giovanna Battista, who as patron oversaw completion of the church and its furnishing by the most important members of her court. The chapel’s altarpiece of the Nativity is by the Savoyard painter Pierre Dufour, active as a portraitist and miniaturist at the court. The chapel patron, the Marchesa Villa, was purportedly related to San Gaetano on her mother’s side. No evidence has yet emerged indicating the Theatine Christmas novena was practiced in Turin, though the family ties between patron and saint make this likely. But the Madonna of the Manger also had another very important meaning here.

When it first was established in Turin in 1563, the church of San Lorenzo had originally been installed in a small Romanesque church dedicated to Santa Maria del Presepio – St. Mary of the Manger – on the northern city wall, behind the cathedral and the site of the later ducal palace. [Claims that the current chapel in the church narthex are located on the site of the original church of Santa Maria del Presepio should be disregarded (Klaiber, 1999).] That San Lorenzo subsumed the dedication to Santa Maria del Presepio seems confirmed by the opening lines of the inscription on the cornerstone laid when the church moved to its present site in 1634. The inscription specifically invokes the Virgin of the manger:

DEO     OPT.     MAX.
  Ac Sanctissimae Deiparae ad Praesepe
  Templum
  Beato Martyri Laurentio ex Serenissimi Emmanuelis Philiberti voto...

Silos San Lorenzo cornerstone

The heightened devotion to San Gaetano after his canonization in 1671 carried through the entire decade of the 1670s and into the 1680s, as witnessed by numerous projects to build new Theatine churches dedicated to him (Nice, Vicenza, Salzburg). This popularity also influenced the cults celebrated at San Lorenzo in Turin – under construction during the same period – most obviously in the inclusion of a chapel to San Gaetano (second on the right). The connection of the Nativity chapel to Gaetano is less immediately apparent, but perhaps more deeply resonant. The Marchesa Villa’s chapel, dedicated in August 1680, could perpetuate the titular cult of the lost Romanesque chapel of Santa Maria del Presepe and link this to the iconography of San Gaetano, fortuitously mingling the origins of San Lorenzo as a ducal church in Turin with Theatine spirituality and the patron’s familial piety.

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Images (top to bottom):

● Gaetano Gherardo Zompini, Saint Cajetan of Thiene Holding the Infant Jesus, pen and ink, eighteenth century.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Rogers Fund, 1966, 66.53.6)

● Placido Cara, I celesti fauori concessi a S. Gaetano Tiene… (Messina: Paolo Bisagni, 1671), p. 2.
Source: Google Books / Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Rome

● Matteo Rosselli, Nativity, Santi Michele e Gaetano, Florence, 1610.
Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

● Chapel of the Nativity, San Lorenzo, Turin, 1679-1680.
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)

● San Lorenzo cornerstone inscription from Giuseppe Silos, Historiarum clericorum regularium, vol. 2 (Rome: Heredum Corbelletti, 1655): 444.
Source: Google Books / Bavarian State Library

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Sources and Further Reading

Giuseppe Dardanello, “Cantieri di corte e imprese decorative a Torino,” in Giovanni Romano, ed., Figure del barocco in Piemonte (Turin: CRT, 1988): 163-204; 237-252.

Susan Klaiber, Guarino Guarini’s Theatine Architecture, Ph.D. dissertation (Columbia University, 1993): 97-8, 245, 256-7.

Susan Klaiber, “The First Ducal Chapel of San Lorenzo: Turin and the Escorial,” in M. Masoero, S. Mamino, C. Rosso, eds., Politica e cultura nell’età di Carlo Emanuele I. Torino, Parigi, Madrid (Florence: Olschki, 1999): 329-343.

San Gaetano in Art: private webpage with extensive collection of images documenting the iconography of San Gaetano.