At the bottom of the Mound

Tim Chalk's Nativity, Princes St. Edinburgh8

Hurtling down the Mound this week on my bike, I found myself slamming on squealing brakes as I reached the bottom, despite the lights being green.

Tim Chalk’s compelling sculpture of the nativity was what arrested me. In particular, it was the realism of the skinny newborn, draped over Mary’s shoulder, which caught my eye. “I’ve seen babies look like that,” I thought.


As I looked closer, what struck me about this scene was its sense of ordinary busyness – nothing rushed, but something in progress. The baby is old enough to have been fed, cut from his umbilical, washed, burped, and lulled to sleep. He has not yet been wrapped in a cloth and laid in the manger, although Joseph is there at the ready.

nativity_bottomWhat the artist has chosen to show us is not the face of the Christ-child, encircled with a glowing halo, but Jesus’ bottom – a dangerous hold for any new parent. “Behold, your saviour comes!”

At the ‘back’ of the sculpture we see a shepherd gingerly entering the stable to offer a new-born lamb, watched by an eager sheepdog.  Outside, a shepherd-boy carries another lamb to a second shepherd, who lingers outside, as if the stable is sacred space.



This scene at the rear was lit by the December sun reflecting off the shop-fronts on Princes St., drawing attention to the shepherd-boy’s offering. Caught between the shops of Edinburgh’s commercial heart, and the classical grandeur of the Royal Academy building behind, the power of this humble, busy scene was magnified.

As I rode away, I left in a swirl of thoughts and feelings. A real baby, bottom and all. A young girl, who took a risk. An eager, if unskilled, father. The humble offerings of simple people. The location: rustic, sacred ground, sandwiched between symbols of commerce and culture. Clues, this Christmas, of where we might find the child.

7 thoughts on “At the bottom of the Mound

  1. I almost feel like jumping on the train to Edinburgh to go and see it. Wonderful. I’m particularly drawn to Joseph’s kind, anxious face.

  2. I noticed that the sculpture was commissioned in 2003, so I assume it comes out every year, and it’s just that i haven’t noticed it before. Tom Farmer sponored it (financially) and I think there was even a wee service at which Bishop Brian commissioned it this year. (So this year it must be a Piscy nativity!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s