Vatican Nativity Set Might Include Animals Not Present at Jesus’ Birth

Construction is under way on the annual Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

Construction is underway on this year's Vatican nativity set.
Construction is underway on this year's Vatican nativity set. (photo: Estefania Aguirre/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has started construction on its annual Nativity set in St. Peter’s Square, and the display is expected to include a few animals that may not have been at Jesus’ birth.

The Pope said in his third book on the life of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, released Nov. 21, that the ox and the donkey, regularly included in Nativity scenes, are not mentioned in the Gospels.

But they are included in other parts of the Bible, which could have inspired Christians to use them in representations of the birth of Jesus.

“No Nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey,” Pope Benedict says in his new book, which eventually will be translated into 20 languages.

The square was first decorated in 1986 under the papcy of Pope John Paul II, and the 19th-century images usually come from the parish of San Andrés del Valle.

The construction of the Nativity scene began on Nov. 19 and is expected to finish by Dec. 24, just in time for Christmas Eve.

The governorate of Vatican City’s technical services office designs a new Nativity set every year, inspired by different scenes of the life of Jesus.

Although the scenarios of where the statues are located vary each year, the essence is the same.

In 2010, the set included nine Filipino figures in honor of the 60th anniversary of the country's diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Last year’s scene focused on biblical events where Mary was a key figure, including the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple and, of course, the birth of Jesus.

As of Nov. 21, the area where the display will be in St. Peter’s Square sports the pillars that will partially support the Nativity scene. Construction workers have also placed a metal frame next to the obelisk and a tent to protect their work, with scaffolding alongside it.

The Nativity will likely include life-size figures of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, shepherds, the Magi and some animals.

The display will be placed next to a 78-foot-tall white fir from the town of Pescopennataro, Italy, donated to the Pope by the southern region of Basilicata.

It will be lit during a ceremony on Dec. 14, although the manger will be inaugurated on Christmas Eve.

Pope Benedict will celebrate a vigil Mass on Christmas Eve at 10pm in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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