The construction of “lapinha” cribs is a centuries-old cultural art of the Azores, specifically on the island of São Miguel. Their making is becoming more and more common, as a result of the various workshops created for the same purpose. The number of people producing them has increased year after year and the presence of a “lapinha” crib is almost “mandatory” this Christmas season.
The “lapinha” cribs are authentic miniature cribs and date back to the 16th century. They first appeared on the island of São Miguel due to the establishment of the Franciscan Order. Since then they have been part of the cultural identity of the people of Micael.
They were born for the first time from the hands of the nuns of these religious convents of the Franciscan Order and they decorated the cribs literally with the elements they “had at hand”. Small cones, artificial flowers, feathers, fish scales, dried moss, paper, cotton and small clay figures to represent the Holy Family.
The figure and central theme of the cribs have always been the Holy Family and the birth of the child Jesus. Other additional themes of the cribs are the representation of daily life, such as the slaughter of the pig, processions and pilgrimages. The cave houses the Holy Family and all the other elements are organized around it.
The nativity scene has undergone some improvements and new construction techniques over the years and has become very well known. The clay figures were produced by local artisans – the puppeteers – who modelled the raw material until they formed the small pieces, which were painted by hand. The clay factories then took care of it. The clay was boiled, glazed and painted, already from the 2nd half of the 19th century, and so the improvement of the nativity figures took place – they started to be produced according to a moulding technique.
The sculpture of these figurative pieces has always been closely associated with the Christmas tradition of setting up the nativity scene.
The artificial flowers used in the nativity scene were also produced by the nuns of the Franciscan Order, they are known as “nuns’ flowers”. The lapinha cribs are a delicate piece, so they are kept inside a bubble or even in small glass boxes to be easily exposed and their filling is easily appreciated by anyone.
The lapinha crib is the 14th product that integrates the list of Marca Açores and was certified by the Regional Government of the Azores as a piece of “Artesanato dos Açores”.