The eighteenth-century grotto of the Nativity
The eighteenth-century grotto of the Nativity, inside the Church of Santa Maria della Neve, is a work of extraordinary beauty for Acireale, both for the setting (a natural lava cave) and for the historical artistic and ethno-anthropological significance.The history of this evocative Nativity, which is a perfect synthesis of the power of nature and human creativity, began on a late summer evening of 1741 when, back from a pilgrimage, the priest Don Mariano Valerio and some of his brothers were struck by a thunderstorm and were forced to take refuge in that dark and unwelcoming lava cave. Charmed by its depth, Don Valerio thought of setting up “a grotto similar to the one in Bethlehem”: hence, he commissioned some local artisans to create the 34 characters that make up the scene. These are works of art, made life-size in wax and wood and richly dressed in costumes that vaguely hark back to a folksy nineteenth-century background. Intensely expressive and marked by the hardship of rural work, the faces of the characters reveal the humbleness and faith that pervade them before the Lord.The Nativity was delivered to the faithful on Christmas Eve, 1852. Despite the several restoration works that have taken place over time, today it still retains its original beauty. During the Christmas season, the Church, open daily, becomes a place of moving religious ceremonies that bring the faithful back to tradition.