Traditional Portuguese Presépio on Display in the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives

The Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives is pleased to be chosen as one of four sites in the region to host a traditional Portuguese presépio or nativity scene assembled by the Associação Mosaico Cultural e Solidária de Lagoa, Açores, EUA e Canadá.
Faculty Director Gloria de Sá invited Mr. Roberto Medeiros, president of Associação Mosaico, and director of the Azorean Nativity Museum to display a presepio in the archives to highlight Azorean holiday traditions.  On Monday November 30, Mr. Medeiros painstakingly set up the 8 x 9 foot table top scene replete with logs, bark, moss, rocks, lichen and a sawdust street dyed pink.  Populating the scene are 93 handmade terracotta figures, which range from shepherds and washerwomen to the baby Jesus and six Magi, 16 animals, 2 windmills and 11 houses similar to those found in the Azores.  All of the figures and buildings are made by artisans from the city of Lagoa, in the Island of São Miguel, Azores. 

The opening of the exhibit was marked by an archives open house, reception and talk by Mr. Medeiros and by Father Tim Goldrick, Vice President of Friends of the Crèche, a national organization dedicated to furthering the tradition of the Christmas Nativity scene.  Father Goldrick brought several nativities from around the world from his personal collection and delivered a fascinating overview to the gathered crowd on the cultural history of the nativity from the second century to the present. 

“The Encyclopedia Britannica describes a crèche (presépio) as a three-dimensional representation of the birth of Jesus Christ that incorporates aspects of landscape and daily life.  At the core of the crèche are the figures of the infant Jesus in a manger, Mary and Joseph and the Magi.  It is the addition of the landscape and daily that elevates this model to that of a crèche from a representation of the Nativity.

In a traditional Portuguese presépio the model is set up in the family home at the beginning of Advent and the figurine of the infant Jesus is sometimes not placed upon the manger until after the Midnight Mass (Missa do Galo) on Christmas Day.  The model is then taken down after the Epiphany (Dia de Reis). 

What sets Portuguese presépios apart from other crèche representations is that throughout the years a “Portuguese vibe” has been given to the story: it is common to find figurines that represent quotidian activities such as the wash lady, the miller and his mill, members of a dance group (rancho folclórico), a woman with the traditional cântaro on her head (clay pot) amongst other stereotypical Portuguese icons.” – Sonia Pacheco, Archives Librarian for the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives

 The exhibit will be on display through December 23, 2009, Monday through Friday, from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM in the Prince Henry Society Reading Room, Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives.  All are welcome.  Park in lot 13. For more information, please call 508 999-8689.

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