The Santon of Provence

he origins of Santons go back to the first centuries of Christianity : they represent the nativity scene. According to tradition, the first crib was made by Saint Francis of Assisi. The Santons were alive, in a natural scenery. The mother of Saint Francis was from Provence, and it is thought that she brought this custom to Provence. Marseille had its first crib in 1224 (this shows that Marseille has a long tradition of cribs) and Avignon in 1326.

Santon de Provencesanton of provencenyway, the tradition of cribs has become the most lively and also the most charming through its details. With a delightful disregard for history/ anachronism, the people of Provence have created around the crib a small world of characters from their daily life : Jesus was reborn in Provence. The first cribs consisted only of the Sacred Family, with the donkey and the ox, and some shepherds with their sheep. The characters representing country life and crafts of Provence appeared only at the end of the 17th century.

his is why, except for the Sacred Family and the Three Wise Men, who wear biblical costumes, all other Santons wear clothes from the 18th and 19th century.

n fact, in this period the first master Santon craftsmen appeared, who took their characters from the living cribs, from the " pastorals " and especially from life in Provence itself. There is the old shepherd, the countrywoman with her cabbage and her plaited string of garlic, the fisherman and the fishwife, the old woman from Arles, the miller and the famous Bartomieu, the " pistachié ". The real Santon craftsman creates with feelings, he creates his own characters. They are all different, but have one thing in common : they are bringing a gift, a fruit, or a symbol of their work, or a special present like the woman with the black chicken whose stock was recommended for newborn children. The Santons, the Provençal translation of " small saints ", deserve their name.

Santon shepherdt first they were a luxury product, reserved for nobility.They were clothed in silk and made of several materials : wood, cardboard, glass, lead, alabaster, bread, clay, and others. I have forgotten how many, but you can see them in museums.

Later, the exploitation of clay quarries, to manufacture roof and floor tiles, offered easy to work and cheap raw material. The Santon, made in one piece, became democratic. Its size became smaller, right down to tiny " fleas " of several millimetres.

ig or small, heterogenic - with clothes - or monolithic - only from clay - the traditional Santons of Provence reflect the sun of Provence : warm, luminous, simple but proud and so nice/friendly that they seem to speak with the typical accent of the south. Some even say that they are alive.

o be popular, the Santon must remain popular.