The medieval mountain village of Lucéram, an easy half-hour's drive north of Nice, presents several hundred crèches (Nativity scenes) every winter. The event, that's been going on, and growing, since 1998, is called the Circuit des Crèches. "Circuit" refers to the route visitors are invited to follow through the village streets to see most of the creches.
Poetic license: the French word "crèche" (accented) translates to the English "manger". We've seen the word "creche" (non-accented) used in English texts, and Beyond will be using this form for the rest of the article. A "creche" is, literally, a manger, the animal's dining room. Beyond most often sees the word used to mean the creche of Bethleham, or the Nativity. In another context, a "crèche" is the word for a nursery school.
The Visit. You'll need to allow a few hours, a good half-day at the very least, to see the main collection of creches in Lucéram. Because of half-day school on Saturday mornings, local French people tend to visit during Saturday afternoons, and the place gets a bit too crowded. Beyond suggests you try to visit on Saturday mornings or during the week (but not Mondays).
Sizes of the creches vary from the itty-bitty to the huge. The most famous tiny one is a creche in half of a walnut shell, made by Christian Ricort. At the Musée des Crèches we saw several others that were fit inside hollowed stones and other fairly small objects. The biggest creche is a 10-meter long replica of the village of Lucéram, also built by Madame Christian Ricort.
A true creche is a simple Nativity scene, with Mary, Joseph, the baby, a few animals and shepherds, and sometimes the three mages. The creches of Provence often expands this theme into the world of Provencal santons, with a complete creche that includes a replica of the village, the surrounding hills, and depictions of the principal arts and trades of the area. An example of this "grande crèche provençale" is Lucéram's biggest creche, located in the Chapelle St Pierre [photo].
Lucéram's annual "Circuit des Crèches" proposes a circuit for visitors to follow, leading them through the town, down little streets, beneath low vaulted passages, through large squares, past museum,s, chapels, "lavoirs" and fountains. Collections of creches are presented in the Chapelle St Pierre, the Musée de la Creches and the Maison de Pays. A life-sized creche is in the main square, Place Adrien Barralis, and another in a dark passage high in the old village. Creches fill old stone "lavoirs", with one in a gold-fish tank submerged in the bassin. Large creches are inside houses, viewed through windows or open doorways, and smaller creches are everywhere. They perch over the top of doorways, sit in wood and stone flower boxes, inhabit small air-vent openings in the stone walls. Part of the pleasure of the Lucéram creches is discovering these jewels of imagination and creation.
An elderly lady who is continuing her mother's trade as the town's "fileuse" (wool spinner) invited us inside to see the creches she had there, and demonstrated her wool spining method for Beyond. Her own creation was an African creche [photo-19] influenced from when she had lived in Chad. Another creche in her house had been built by blind children from the School of the Blind in Cannes - the pieces as small as could be made by touch alone.
In different parts of the village, Beyond found creches made by small children, using plastic characters, and sophisticated creches done at great cost and with hundreds of hours of labor. Creches were made from stone, olive wood, knitted wool, clay, bread, modelling clay, ebony, bee's wax and match sticks. Some of the smaller creches were installed in barrels, in glass bon-bons (wine jugs), hollowed-out petanque balls, hollow amethysts, gourdes, bee hives, loaves of bread and amphors.
Our Beyond photos only present a sample of the creches on display in Lucéram, and we are also limited in the number of photos that we can reasonably display here. The quality of our Lucéram Creches photos is often less than ideal: winter light in the narrow streets of a mountain-valley village is low, and the creches were often in dark nooks and crannies or inside rooms with natural light. For expediency we worked without a tripod, and we use flash as little as possible (not liking the unnatural effect).