The idea of creating a mechanical nativity crib within this Institute was thought of by Bishop Emmanuel Galea, then director of this Institute, which was also home to hundreds of orphan children. The crib was inaugurated in 1947 and is the work of Paul Pavia while the Institute’s nuns sewed the robes for each figure. Following this, year upon year, the crib underwent improvement works until it achieved its present form.
Crib making has a very strong tradition in Malta that dates to 1617, when the first crib was exhibited at the church of the Dominican friars in Rabat. One of the oldest cribs in Malta, built in 1670, still survives at St Peter’s Monastery in Mdina.
Crib making originated in Italy where St Francis of Assisi re-enacted the birth of Christ. The tradition spread all over the world with each country adapting it to its own traditions, landscapes and style of costumes. For instance, a Swiss crib will portray châteaus with pitched roofs and a mountainous landscape while that in Greece may feature typical flat-roofed and whitewashed houses.
The building of cribs in Malta is influenced by the Spanish, Neapolitan and Sicilian styles and one can quickly recognize a Maltese crib as it usually includes a typical farmhouse and a flour windmill. The material used usually includes papier mâché, polystyrene and cork as well as a local type of rugged stone.
Many villages annually prepare their own interpretation of the Christmas crib and these are visited by many. It is thanks to these enthusiasts that this custom is still kept alive.