For 25 years, the Christmas Nativity scene in front of St Peter’s Basilica has shown the infant Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. This year, however, the Vatican has decided to radically change the scene, shifting it to Nazareth, and placing Jesus in his father’s carpentry shop.
When Pope Benedict XVI inaugurates the life-size Nativity scene on Christmas eve, the sheep and hay will be gone.
In their place will be a model of three rooms.
Jesus will lie in Joseph’s shop, complete with “the typical work tools of a carpenter”.
On one side, the shop will be flanked with a “covered patio”, while on the other there will be the “inside of a pub, with its hearth”.
The news came in an official statement from the State Department of the Vatican, which organises and builds the giant presepe, or Nativity scene.
The new setting was inspired by two verses in St Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 1:24 and 1:25, the Vatican said, which state: “When Joseph woke up, he did as the Angel of God ordered and took Mary into his house. Without them knowing each other, a child was born and he called his name Jesus”.
The gospel goes on to mention Jesus’ birthplace as Bethlehem, but a spokesman for the Vatican said a decision had been made to place the scene in Nazareth regardless.