The lovely city of Evora in inland Portugal has no shortage of places to visit; you won’t want to miss the Roman Temple, Cathedral and Aqueduct just for starters. One of the most memorable attractions I found here during our trip last year was the Igreja de São Francisco a popular attraction for the Capela dos Ossos [chapel of bones]. We followed the crowds to see the weirdly attractive chapel that uses skulls and limb bones creatively positioned in patterns. The chapel was fascinating but also I could not really forget that I was looking at human bones and felt slightly uncomfortable.
In need of a little light relief, we headed for the nativity display that the church also opens to the public. All year round hundreds of Christmas nativity sets from Portugal and around the world can be seen. Part of a private collection, the variety, colour and sheer joy of these nativity scenes is worth an hour of anyone’s time.
Made from china, wood, clay, straw and fabric these nativity scenes are intricately made and fascinating objects, each one revealing something about the country it came from. Each nativity scene is an interpretation of the birth of Jesus, translated into a family tableau that reflects the local experience. These nativity scenes depict this homely scene with exuberance, giving the story a vitality and showing how Russian, South Americans, Africans and Europeans relate to the nativity. Some of these cribs are moving in their simplicity, others made me laugh out loud they were so playful and joyful. The nativity scenes are both modern and conventional. Plenty of the cribs have a sheep or a lamb near the crib, some have just Mary, Joseph and the baby, others have the Three Kings, angels or shepherds huddled around the happy family. Look closely and you will also find local food, cheese, wine or grapes in wicker baskets, cartoon-like animals and even a baby Jesus with a teddy bear!
Whether you love Christmas or not this Portuguese exhibition is just another reason to visit the beautiful Alentejo city of Evora.