But where do santons come from?
Could santons have originated in Italy? The legend started at the beginning of the 13th century when Francis of Assisi was travelling to Naples over the Christmas period. On the celebration of Jesus’ birth, the faithful enacted the Nativity scene on the forecourt of the church: this performance is still carried out to this day and is known as the living nativity. After one of these shows, Francis of Assisi got the idea of making the three nativity figurines with flour, water, and salt. The three Santi Belli were born. Nowadays, you may hear the elderly in Provence saying “regardez-le ce santi belli!” which in Marseille dialect refers to someone who is just standing there stock-still, like a santon. But to give credit where credit is due, the Provençaux largely contributed to the expansion of the crèches. Towards the end of the 17th century, the way santons were made stood out from how the Neapolitan ones were made in the typically Provencal craftsmanship which came from Franciscan monks. Behind the is: Jean-Louis Lagnel, the first potter to make the little figurines out of raw clay in his workshop in Marseille was behind the true santon de Provence.