The exhibition on the “Puer Natus” is an unmissable opportunity to get to know a great mystical and devotional tradition and a Complex of rare beauty
The Bambinelli made of wax-plastic, had a street in Palermo, that of the Ragazzi, where Cirari masters made this artifact to order of religious and private individuals, together with ex-votos. The devotion of the Child Jesus, detached from that of the Mother, began in Palermo in the church of San Giorgio dei Genovesi, in the 17th century. At first it spread among religious orders and monasteries, then among the aristocracy and only later among the rich bourgeoisie. Currently only one craftsman still in business is known: Luigi Arini, who has his shop near the Church of the Gesù.
The Divine Infant was not only loved by the monks, as Maria Oliveri, one of the two curators of the exhibition, together with her sister Theologian Nicole tells me: “Every nun especially at Santa Caterina had her own Baby Child, but this should not be considered as a surrogate of the motherhood they had renounced “. The devotion was also of a masculine type. Religious often meditated while holding the Child in their arms. An example is the “Bamminu cu boots” of the Santissima Annunziata di Comiso, remembered as the baby of Father Silvestro. He is seated in a gilded chair, richly dressed.
These Sacred and Precious Waxes , had miraculous powers and interacted with nuns and men, animating themselves, as in the case of Sister Maria Teresa in Novara di Sicilia who in 1752 was talking to the tender baby. Or like the Venerable Sister Maria Crocifissa who, in the convent wanted by the Tomasi family in Palma di Montechiaro, noticed that her little baby kept in a scarabattola (a glass or wooden case) was crying. When she asked the reason, she was told: because he was naked.
Thus it was that the nun sewed and embroidered a layette with bonnet, shirt and dress. In a very interesting documentary by Ugo Gregoretti, the Abbess of the convent shows the tiny layette made and still preserved. The Venerable was an inspiration for the author of the Leopard with the character of Beata Corbera.
There are about a hundred Bambinelli in the exhibition coming not only from Palermo, but from other Sicilian cities, some are valuable pieces of the Neapolitan school, the most valuable, a blond Bambinello by the Palermo bamminiddaru Domenico Fasulo. There are children of all sizes: “Very small in walnut shells, oranges or lemons (always made of wax), in little books, cradles; of medium size: sleeping on sofas, on cushions, in small temples among the flowers, in cork gardens. Finally, there are the life-size ones, which you can hold in your arms and are the most charming “.
Maria Oliveri is the author of a splendid volume “The secrets of the Cloister” where she collected small stories, curiosities and above all the ancient and secret recipes of the Palermitan monasteries. He tells me that every convent had its own recipe, and for a long time it was a means of sustenance for the nuns.
As we walk through the splendid cloister with the fountain and statue of San Domenico in the center, Maria points out that too often we are used to considering the monastic choice as an imposition in order not to waste the heritage, which the daughters of nobles were destined for. 600 And 700. More than a sentence it was sometimes a way out for girls of 13 / 14 years destined for forced marriages and without love, with much older people, forced into continuous pregnancies that wore out their health and exposed them to continuous dangers of life. The Convent ensured power, the availability of a dowry, (although lower than that of a daughter who was getting married) a kind of independence. They were strong women capable of affirming their own personality, it suggests to me that the idea that a woman can be happy only as a wife and mother is a patriarchal heritage.
Visitors to the Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, he tells me, still have mixed and tumultuous feelings when they visit the complex, now without nuns; the last three elderly were transferred to the Monastery of Sant’Agnese in Rieti several decades ago, after almost 60 years spent in Palermo. The curious ask how the nuns lived and how their day was marked. Many are fascinated by the “views”, the loggia from which they watched, concealed, the religious and civil events of the city. Some say that child mothers remembered the layettes of the children, shown by the nuns, the younger ones were made to enter the cloister through the wheel to be pampered and spoiled.
Going to visit the Bambinelli exhibition means getting to know a place of splendor that has long been forgotten and recovered with the opening of the “Dolceria” where the secret recipes have been reproduced. I am intrigued by this love for the God – child, it is nice to hear the many stories related to these waxes, such as that of the “Cicciddo d’oru” the naked Baby of Scicli from 700 which shows smiling at the pudenda and is carried in a solemn procession through the town.
After having led me into the splendid church to a hall, rich in precious polychrome marbles and with the altar in semi-precious stones, I greet Maria Oliveri and thank her for having been my guide in the complex and in the exhibition. Back in the Dolceria, it is impossible not to buy something, there is a beautiful heart of almond paste, with a pumpkin inside and on top a tiny smiling child; as I take him away with me, I confide to him in silence: “a scarabattola awaits you, in Rome”.