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Rome's most beautiful Christmas cribs and Nativity scenes

A short guide to Christmas cribs and Nativity scenes to visit in Rome over the festive season.

100 Presepi

The 2022 edition of 100 Presepi, Rome's international nativity crib exhibition, takes place under the colonnade in St Peter's Square until 8 January. The annual exhibition was founded in 1976 and each year it hosts more than 100 Nativity scenes from Italy and other countries around the world. In addition to contemporary reproductions of traditional 18th-century Neapolitan and Sicilian cribs, and 19th-century Roman mangers, there are modern versions made from wood, papier-mâché and terracotta, as well as unconventional materials such as sand, rice and metal.

Vatican Nativity scene

Vatican Christmas crib 2022. Photo Vatican Media.

The Vatican's Nativity scene, which is set up beside the Christmas tree in St Peter's Square, is a gift from Sutrio in Italy's northern Friuli-Venezia Giuli region. Made entirely of cedar wood harvested from a sustainable forest, the scene features life-size figures, with the Holy Family joined by hand-carved characters representing traditional artisans from Sutrio, including carpenters, weavers and craftspeople. The crib will remain on display in St Peter's Square until 8 January 2023.

SS. Cosma e Damiano

One of Rome's most magical Nativity scenes to visit at Christmas (and all year round) is at the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano beside the Roman Forum. This monumental Neapolitan Nativity scene features a vast number of wooden and ceramic figures including shepherds, artisans and street vendors.

Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore

The oldest sculptural nativity in the world can be found at the Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore near the central Termini station. Artist Arnolfo di Cambio was commissioned by Pope Niccolò V to create the marble figurines between 1290 and 1291. The Franciscan pope was inspired by St Francis of Assisi, creator of the first living nativity, in Greccio, in 1223.

S. Maria in Via

A traditional-style crib can be found each year in the church of S. Maria in Via off Largo Chigi, in the city centre, which for the last six decades has housed the work of Italian members of the global crib-building association Amici del Presepio.

Street cleaners' crib

A more unusual manger scene can be found near St Peter’s on Via dei Cavalleggeri 5. The street cleaner’s crib, owned and cared for by Rome’s rubbish collection company AMA, has a floor containing over 1,400 different stones brought by pilgrims from all over the world. Founded 50 years ago, the presepe dei netturbini can be visited for free by appointment.

Cover image: The Vatican's 2016 Nativity Scene in St Peter's Square. Photo credit: Kiev.Victor /

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