Nativity scenes are everywhere in Italy at Christmastime, but one of the most unusual is in Laveno Mombello, where each year a nativity scene is placed under the water of the lake in front of Piazza Caduti del Lavoro in the centre of town.
The tradition was started in 1979 by a group called “Friends of the Nativity scene”, and now a week before Christmas Eve every year a grand total of 42 statues are assembled 2-3 metres below the surface of the water on 5 metal platforms supporting a total weight of 18 tonnes.
The statues were carved in white Vicenza stone by Maestro Tancredi da Brendale, and represent the classic Nativity figures of Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the Magi, as well as complementary characters like a wayfarer scanning the horizon, a housewife carrying chickens and baskets, and a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders. In the daytime the figures are hardly visible under the water, but after dark they seem to float in the light of powerful underwater floodlights.
On the evening of Christmas Eve the figure of the Christ Child is carried ceremoniously by a young married couple from the Church of St Philip and St James to the lakefront and blessed by the parish priest. Four scuba divers then carry the baby in an illuminated cradle to the underwater manger. A light-and-water show not to be missed!