Saturday 12 December 2009

Oh Very Small Town of Bethlehem.

By Richard Morley.

The Main Scene of the Nativity at the Belén del Ayuntamiento

Oh pueblecito de Belén, cuán quieto tú estás.
Los astros en silencio dan su bella luz en paz.
Mas en tus calles brilla la luz de redención
que da a todo hombre la eterna salvación.

The power of religion in Spain might not be as Strong as it was not that long ago, despite reprehensible measures taken by the church to affect voting in the parliament, but Christmas in this country still retains a spiritual side lost in the commercial bluster that signifies the festive season in other countries.

The story of the Nativity is very important in Spanish tradition. I wrote a couple of posts ago about Nativity scenes, or “Beléns”. Now those figures that were on sale in the Christmas market are now coming to a shop window near you – if you live in Madrid.

My greengrocer has one. So does the travel agent and the hairdresser around the corner. One of the banks is trying to serve both God and Mammon by displaying a very tiny crib. Some of these Belenes (ITALICS) would win no prizes for expertise or creativity. The hairdressers has basically arranged a few plastic figures of shepherds and angels, shoved in a couple of camels, and that’s it. It’s not really a nativity scene as there is no stable, no Holy family. But it makes a difference from the usual cans of hairspray and boxes of colouring that are normally on display.

Serving God and Mammon - my local Santander bank.

The pharmacist has gone for chintz, the local chiropractors have opted for simplicity over ostentation, and the double glazing showroom has just gone completely overboard. His window contains hundreds of little figures, buildings and, artistically, he has put the stable off to one side. He does this every year.

The Hairdressers.

The Pharmacy.

The Double Glazing Showroom

And it’s great! It’s a sign Christmas is almost here.

Some of the Beléns are much more professional – and expensive.

This year the ayuntamiento has called upon the services of a “Maestro Belenista”, José Luis Mayo Lebrija to create the figures and they has have been assembled by Enrique Haro. And, as you would expect, it is on a grand scale.

The Anunciation

Divided into three parts; the Annunciation, where the angel appears before the shepherds watching over their flocks; the stable scene with the baby Jesus being watched over by a doting mother and father; (Header Photograph) and finally, scenes of the journey of the three kings on their way to worship the new born.

The craftsmanship of the model-making is amazing.

 Scenes of everyday life

 The Belen can be found underground at the new tourist centre on the corner of the Calle de Goya and the Paseo de la Castellana at the Plaza Colon. If you have fifteen minutes, it is well worth the visit. It is open between 10am and 9pm until the 6th of January.

The Journey of the Three Kings

Another Belen created by José Luis Mayo Lebrija can be found in the Basílica Pontificia de San Miguel in the calle de San Justo, not far from the Plaza Mayor. Open from 10am to 2pm and 5:30 to 9 except during services.

The men who create these marvels have grouped themselves into the “Asociación de la Belenistas de Madrid”. They have their own exhibition in the Old Post office, the Real Casa de Correos in the Puerta del Sol. There you will find over 600 figures set among wonderfully crafted scenery. The whole thing weighs more than two and a half tons. Again, the exhibition will remain open until the 6th of January.

According to the “Madrid es Navidad” booklet given out free by the ayuntamiento, there are twenty four official Belens scattered around the town. Whether you are religious or not, they are worth a look just for the workmanship alone.



  1. The Belen in San Lorenzo de el Escorial takes over the whole centre ot town, going over four squares and the pedestrian street between them. It opens on December 22nd, but so far they have built a sort of middle-eastern village in the main square, a mound for the anunciacion in another square, some sort of desert on the third and a roman palace on the fourth. Last year there were about 150 sheep all over the place. Worth seeing it.

  2. There's another big one in La Vaguada, near the Zara.