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The Christmas Story: Picturing the Birth of Christ in Medieval Manuscripts

Christmas, one of the most joyful seasons for Christian communities worldwide, celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and the dramatic events that took place during his infancy—from his nativity in a lowly stable, to the angel’s announcement of this news to local shepherds, to Herod’s murder of all the babies in Bethlehem, and his narrow escape from that slaughter. As it is recounted in the Christian New Testament, the Christmas story is remarkably short on specifics. In rendering the story into pictures, it fell to medieval illuminators to supply the details. Even today, popular representations of these events are based on images that were first devised by the artists of the Middle Ages.