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December 17, 1927     Arkansas Catholic
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December 17, 1927
 

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Page Ten THE GUARDIAN, DECEMBER 17, 1927 ............................ - ...................................... il CHRISTMAS CRIBS IN ROME 1 I ~ By Rt. Rev. Msgr. H.T. Henry, LiSt. D. ! (Written for N. C. W. C. News Service Christmas ! i Supplement). i i i 4 ...... 4 In a brief account of the Aloysian Pilgrimage made last December from far-off California to Rome, it was interesting ~o read that the pilgrims "attended Midnight Mass in the Basil- Jca of St. Mary Major and heard the celebrated choir chanting Martins and Lauds for Christmas and wit- nessed the uniqut ceremany of the carrying of the Manger of Our Lord, which is one o fthe Basilica's most precious relics, through the church to the high altar, where it rested during the solemn High Mass. The music was exquisite and devotional and the ceremonies impressive." I quote this for the pleasure of my readers, com- paratively few of whom Would be likely to come upon the account, as it appeared in a Monthy Calendar of one of the churches ~n San Francisco whose pastor-- a dear friend of mine had conducted the Pilgrimage. Nece~arily brief as this account is (for many other highly interesting things that effgaged the attention of the pilgrims had to be recorded as well), nevertheless two things that i~ssess an outstanding importance for us just now are signalized in the account. Immense Crowds Attracted The ftrgt thing is the unique char- acter of the ceremony--the carrying of relics of the Crib or Manger in which Christ was laid as a new-born Child throagh the Basilica .to Vhe high altar, where they rested during the solemn High Mass. That cere- mony is indeed so unique that it draws immense crowds of the faith- fal to the Midnight Mass. Not only - the faithful, but even more or less casual non-Carbolic visitors to Rome feel themselves fortunate to be in the Eternal City at Christmas, and at considerable personal inconveni- ence attend the ceremony. And thus it w~ that James Russell Lowell was attracted to it during his rather brief visit to Rome in 1851. He was then thirty ~wo years old, the son of a Congregationalist minister, but not overly devoted to religious exercises. His fairly long account of the cere- mony was written in a letter to an American lady, Miss Fay, and is to be found, not in the two large volumes of his correspondence published by C. E. Norton, btu, strangely en- ough, in the first volume of his "Life" by 8udder (pages 323-825). A2ohough ignorant of the meaning and symbolism of many--or nearly all--of the ceremonial details, he still knows enough to write: "On Christ- man Eve the Presepio (Crib or Man- ger}, a piece of the manger in which the Saviour was cradled, was carried in procession at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Torches were stuck in the ground for nearly a quarter of a mile from the church, and ghost- ly dragoons in their long white cloaks (like Leonora's lover) appeared and vanished at intervals in the uncer- tain light. At the end of the church I could dimly see the Pope, with a mitre on and off at intervals. There was endless Gregorian chanting, then comparative silence. . then an exoeedingly slim procession with the Presepio, which I could not see for the simple reason that it was en- closed in a silver case. At this point the Hallelujahs of the choir were fine." That Lowell's tone lacks rev- erence--(I have omitted some frivol- ous remarks)~-is perhaps what we are unfortunately led to expect from non-Catholics when commenting upon Catholic pieties, but it will serve to emphasize the reverent attitude of Eliza Allen Starr, a convert to Cath- olicity, that marks her lovely two volumes entitled "Pilgrims and Shrines," from which it will be pleas- ing to quote in connection with her description of Santa Maria Mag- giore (the Italian title for the St. Mary Major of the Aloysian Pil- grimage account). . A Church With Several Names The mention of Saint Mary Major leads us to consider next the signi- ficance of the church wherein the "unique ceremony of the carrying of the Manger of Our Lord, to the high altar, where it rested during the solemn High Mass" took place. This famous church has several names, in addition to that of Santa Maria Mag- giore. As it was originally built by Pope Li~berius (in the middle of the fourth century), it is some times called the Basilica Liberiana or Basilica Liberii. Because of a legend that its site was marked off by a fall of snow on August 5, it is called "Our Lady of the Snow" (S. Maria ad Nives). But the title that espec- ially interests us just now ]s that of S. Maria ad Praesepe (Saint Mary's at the Crib or Manger). It has borne ~his name ever since the seventh century, when relics of the Crib of Bethlehem were brought from Palestine and were enshrined in the great Church of St. Mary Major. I have said "relics of the Crib," not the Crib itself. At the present time,1 these relics consist of five pieces of board (evidently shorter than they had originally been) which appear to have formed (together with a missing sixth piece} a simply con- structed support for the original Crib of Bethlehem, which may have been buih from the limestone of the Cave or Grotto in which Our Saviour was born. Let us now hear Eliza Allen Starr tell us about it. She does so in eloquent language in the last chap- ter of the first volume of her "Pil- grims and Shrines." She is speaking of one of the side chapels of the Basilica, or Church of St. Mary Ma- jor: "In this ch~ipel, at Christmas, is shown every year the precious casket in which lies the crib of the Infant Jesus. That same Helen, the empress, who found the cross of Our Lord, found His crib. . When Saint Helen found this treasure, with a most womanly as well as saintly veneration, she covered it with plates of silver, and the sacred grotto itself with slabs of precious marble. Thus it was kept for bhe admiration of Christian pilgrims, until the year 624 when the Mahommedans, by invading the Holy Land, endangered the ex- istence of all relics; and the crib, with the relics of Saint Jerome, was brought to Rome and deposited in this side chapel of St. Mary Major. Here, at the mi'dnight Mass of Christ- mas, the little crib is placed where is can be venerated, enclosed not only in the silver plates of Saint Helen, but in a case presented by Margaret of Austria, wife of Philip III of Spain; and this again enclosed in one of still greater richness, by the Duchess of Hermosa, representing Our Lord as an infant in a crib of enamel adorned with .bas-reliefs ~n silver; but all three cases deriving their preciousness from'the five small time-eaten boards within." Now, while learned Catholic arch- eologists like Father Gr~sar and Monsignor Luzi find no solid argu- ment for thinking that the crib came to Rome before the twelftb century, and doubt is also expressed concern- ing the authenticity of the crib it- self (that is, the five small, time- eaten boards spoken of by Starr), the devotion to the crib, whether during the early centuries when it was still kept in the grotto made splendid by Saint Helena and Constantine, or in the later centuries when its relics were thought to have been securely brought to Rome, was impressively shown by the crowds of Christians who traveled from far and near to show their veneration for either shrine. Other Christmas Cribs When we speak of other Christ- mas Cribs, we of course mean repre- sentations that are intended to call vividly to our minds the fact of Our Lord's birth in the case at Bethle- hem. We nmy now glance at the famous crib in the Church of Our Lady styled "in Ara Coeli ("on the Altar of Heaven"). In one of its side chapels a magnificent crib is set up for Christmastide, a crib famous for its lavish beauty, with a gorgeous tableau of the Nativity in lifesize figures. The Minorite, Father S. M. Donovan, modestly describes it as "perhaps one of the largest and most beautiful cribs in the world." In- stead of attempting a word-picture of it, I am happy that chance led me to come upon a description of the curious devotions there in a volume of the recently published Life of Archbishop Ullathorne. Nearly fifty years ago (2 January, 1881) he wrote a letter to two little daughters of Charles Berington: "My dear children, no doubt you have had your little Crib of Bethlehem, and have thought how wonderful it is that God should love us so much. When St. W. H. LEWIS MFG. CO. 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Crowds of persons come in from the country to pray there, and all the afternoon children are brought there in car- riages; and one after another they [get into a little pulpit girls as well as boys and preach sermons in hon- or of Our Lord's birth. Sometimes two girls speak in parts, like the shepherdesses, about what they have heard the Angels say in the heavens, and about what they have seen in the manger. The people lis- ten with great attention and piety, because it is the privilege of innocent children to preach Our Lord's birth. This goes on day by day for a fort- night in that great church called Ara Coeli, and that very church, before Christ was born, was a heathen tem- ple, the grandest in Rome. They are just children like yourselves, who make these little sermons, and some- times they speak in verse .... The grotto is very large and beauti- ful, and the shepherds are there as well as the Divine Child with Mary and Joseph; and over the hills far away you see ~he Three Kings with their camels and attendants coming on their way. But on the Feast of the Epiphany the shepherds are gone and the Kings are there adoring and making their of- BLOCK REALTY 306 WEST THIRD STREET Real Estate, Rents, Loans and Insurance WM. SIMPSON COTTON CO. ferings . . It is nedless to add[the least known by that these little children, from five lhas never been described to ten years of age, have been care-]one " I have come upon fully coached, and deliver with much ] lion of this unique Crib no natural grace and instinctive rever-I and it may be that my readers ,ence the sermons or verses which i.~t ~t ...... ;+I, .... ..'~ .... u] !hey bare memmized thoroughly, i':eadi'~'g'\V'eys'd'ei;ri;"t~ion';) The outstanding f~atttre of the Crib "The Sunday after is of course its occupant; the Barn- says, "as I was wandering'in bino, or Divine Babe, carved out of Trastcvere, I espied down a wood. "It is said to have come from alley near the corner of the the Holy Land," writes Father Done- which leads to San van, "and in the course of time it j((ontinued on page 3.) has beeu bedecked with numerous jewels of great value. It is carried in procession yearly on the Feast ~@@@~@@@ of the Epiphany by the Minister Gen- eral of the Friars Minor who solemn- ly bless the city with it from the top of the high flight of stairs that lead to the main entrance of Ara Coeli." A Little-Known Crib COMPLIMENTS OF SHRADER Limitations of space remind me that I must omit other Cribs in Ro- man churches in order to hurry on to a crib which is not in a church, but which Wey, in his rather frivolous volume on Rome, declares to be "the most original, the most popular and STUDIO 120 MAIN Phone 4-1193 Little Rock, Ark. Sprinkler System Low Insurance Gazette Bros. Transfer & Storage Company 212-214 SCOTT STREET We Crate, Pack, Move and Store OUR VANS "ARE PADDED Phone 4-4872 Little Rock, Ark. 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