In a village hidden among the valleys of the Lunigiana—or, rather—in a portion of a village enclosed among said valleys, there is an antique nativity set open year-round. Since 1935, Pallerone has been home to what is perhaps the oldest mechanical nativity set in Italy. It was created thanks to the idea of a then-twentysomething, Silvio Marino Baldassini, who set it up almost as a joke, using scrap materials: bicycle tires, cords, a motor extracted from a fan, assorted gears and gadgets... All was set up in the side nave of the church of Saint Thomas Beckett (San Tommaso Beckett), at the Sacro Cuore altar. We liked it immediately. Every Christmas, it’d be reassembled and enhanced with details that kept it growing—so much, in fact, that in 1938 it had already gotten too big for the church and was moved to a hall of the Malaspina castle.
This nativity set is truly ours! The sun crops up where it rises
and vanishes where it sets here, in Lunigiana, where the local characters go
about our daily business: there’s the baker, the shoemaker, the blacksmith, the
woodcutter with the donkey that kicks, a
fisherman waiting patiently lakeside. It’s always been a unique sort of artwork
that has grown along with us.
In the 1950s, new scenes were added, ultimately leading to the form that we see presented today. It was 1968 and the whole town contributed to the construction of the new center: we needed to make it visible for the whole year!
Local businesses lent their workers, and for the cavern hundreds of kilograms of iron were needed; for the centring of the time, it took 100 quintals of tuff from Posara! The mechanisms were activated by nine separate motors: even today, they trigger the flickering of lights, the arrival of the Guiding star and the spraying of 120 liters of water per minute. All the newspapers were talking about it, and in 1966 even the news channel Rai came to see, for its Cronache italiane program.
There are local curiosities aplenty... during the War, there was an armory near here, with the Germans stationed in the same area. My fellow townspeople would go there at night to disassemble pieces of their military equipment, tamper with them and taking what would help them build the nativity set. There are numerous night and daytime nativity sets... but no others quite like this, because within it there’s a whole system stolen from the Germans! A system that creates light for both night and day, and still works today. I can’t tell you how it’s made, however—if I did, you all will copy us! It’s a secret... I can tell you, however, that there’s a piece that comes from a military tool that we used to raise and lower the light (no one would be able to guess this solution’s origins). People risked their lives as they went to track down these pieces.
Next there’s an event that is commemorated every year. The Germans had decided to blow up the armory, but there was one soldier who had fallen in love with a girl from Pallerone, and he saved us. It’s said that he would have been the very person to carry out the explosion, since he was left behind alone, with all the explosives—which he ended up destroying. Have you seen how large the armory is? If it had exploded, it would have destroyed the entire town—there’d be a crater here. This is a true story—the names of both the soldier and the girl are known.