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Bill Thayer

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The First Christmas

7"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

Gospel according to Luke, ch. 2 (King James Version)

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Cathedral of Orvieto, detail of the façade: the Nativity.

While angels watch — as do the ox and the ass — and Joseph sits wearily, looking old and small, Mary gazes on her child.

Among the interesting details, the medieval pillow, lashed together with strips of cloth; and Jesus' manger, to which the unknown artist has given a symbolic twist: it is in fact a Roman sarcophagus of the characteristic "strigil" type (like this example in the Tarlati chapel of the cathedral of Arezzo), and a reminder, not uncommon in medieval art, that the Crucifixion is never very far from the Nativity.

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Page updated: 17 Jun 08