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The following Nativities are each displayed in a unique permanent setting created by Marian Library Crèche Collection volunteers. The descriptive text for each was written by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Nativity set from Tanzania
Unknown artist

Ebony is one of Africa's trademarks. This bas-relief of the Nativity is carved deep into the heart of the tree trunk, where ebony is ebony. Likewise, it is at the heart of matter that we encounter the new life of God-made-man.

– ML.2609

Nativity set from Tanzania

The Greatest Story
Unknown artist

Carved from black wood or Mpingo, this Maconde (Tanzania) nativity set is a gift of Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Archbishop of Cincinnati, to the Marian Library. The heavy and shining figures are a worthy tribute to the art of the Maconde. Its style has evolved from simple and rustic patterns to highly decorative elements and sophisticated symbolism. The art of the Maconde follows at least two important criteria:

1. A piece of art is, by definition, an original that cannot be copied.

2. Art is a form of story-telling. Each work of art has a narrative value.

These seem the perfect criteria to recreate the uniqueness of the greatest story ever told.

– ML.1118.06

Nativity set from Tanzania

The Good Shepherd
Unknown artist

Art historians lament the poverty of traditional artistic creation in some of the regions of East Africa. Among the reasons given are the migrant life style of many tribes, and the absence of the cult of the ancestors, which frequently constitutes an important source of inspiration for arts and crafts. As for Tanzania, religious arts and crafts are due mainly to the influence of missionaries. Woodcarvers have gained certain prominence among the Makonde tribes in Southern Tanzania. Alas, their craftsmanship caters mainly to tourists, and goes by the somewhat pejorative designation of "airport art".

This nativity set of light wood, with blackened faces and hands to suggest ebony, belongs to the Makonde tradition. It may not be one of the prized Neapolitan crèches, but in this set there is beauty to be discovered. Take a look at the stance and demeanor of shepherds and wise men. There is a secret rhythm and movement in these figures produced by the subtle bending of shoulders and knees. It seems as if they were engaged in a silent ballet hailing the newborn king. Mary and Joseph are assuming postures reminiscent of age-old techniques of meditation. Kneeling, and with open hands resting on their thighs, they are absorbed in contemplation of the meaning and future of this baby. Towering over the scene, there is a shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders. He somehow announces and stands for the future role and mission of the Christ child. Jesus Christ is the good shepherd gathering the lost and hurt.

– ML.0122.04


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