TURIN, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cries of blasphemy are ringing out as churches and other institutions impose pandemic-inspired twists on Nativity scenes.
Italy's cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, for instance, has a new twist on its Nativity scene this year: Mary, Joseph and other figures are donning medical masks.
The statues' masks are purportedly meant to serve as a reminder for people to wear masks and observe other protocols in the name of fighting COVID-19.
Pushback, however, is growing over the masking of these statues. When Italian social media outfit Weltanschauung Italia shared an image of it on Facebook, many viewers in the comment section called it "disgusting" and "blasphemy."
Turin's cathedral is best known for the Shroud of Turin — a length of fabric bearing an image of Christ's body, which tradition holds was draped over His body in the tomb on Good Friday. The Shroud's authenticity is hotly disputed but has been an object of devotion for centuries. Some scientific analyses suggest it was a medieval forgery, but others say those tests were done on portions of the Shroud that had clearly undergone repairs in the Middle Ages.
Nativity scenes (also known as manger scenes) are a centuries-old Christmas tradition in the West. Saint Francis of Assisi is often credited with developing in the 1220s the first Nativity scene to be used for prayer and devotion. What St. Francis organized was a "living" nativity scene, with live animals and live people in costumes playing the parts of the people mentioned in the Gospel narratives.
The cathedral in Turin is not alone in adding masks to figures in Nativity scenes this year.
An artist in Naples, Genny Di Virgilio, has made a Nativity scene where nearly all the figurines are masked.
A museum of sacred art in Bilbao, Spain likewise added masks onto figurines in a manger scene.
The museum's display includes miniature models of other 2020 Wuhan virus items, like hand sanitizer stations and signs decreeing social distancing rules.
A miniature to-scale sign in the display, for instance, admonishes the shepherds and the Magi (in Spanish and Basque), "15 minutes - maximum time of adoration" — as visible in a video shared by ABC News on Tuesday.
A museum in Spain adjusted its traditional nativity scene for the times — complete with figures wearing masks and signs serving as reminders of social distancing and hand washing. https://t.co/u6tMZPEi6z pic.twitter.com/eufDvwxIul— ABC News (@ABC) December 8, 2020
There are even to-scale tiles on the ground, telling the figures to remain two meters apart for social distancing.
Especially prominent in this Nativity scene are rolls of toilet paper, which make up the stables and ground in the display. This references the toilet paper shortages that hit stores around the world earlier this year, amid panic buying owing to the Wuhan virus.
The star in the Nativity scene, likewise, is made of medical gloves and masks.
Still another Twitter user remarked, "Ridiculous and an abomination to something so sacred!"
The museum's director has stated the intention was "to integrate the new habits that we have acquired with the pandemic into the traditional Nativity scene."
In yet another instance, a priest in Florida shared an image on Twitter showing a Nativity scene in which all the figurines — both humans and animals — are wearing medical masks.
"This sums up the reality of Christmas 2020," Fr. Len Plazewski remarked on Friday. "If you can't socially distance, wear a mask."
He too faced backlash on Twitter, with multiple replies from people saying it was disrespectful and crossed a line.