WITH just over a month to go before Christmas, Pope Benedict has declared that the presence of animals like cattle and donkeys in traditional Nativity scenes is based on little more than a myth.
As churches and families around the world prepare to dust off their Nativity figures for the festive season, Benedict writes in a new book on Christ that, contrary to popular belief, Jesus' birth was not presided over by oxen, asses, camels or indeed any other beasts.
"There is no mention of animals in the Gospels," he wrote in the third and last volume of his biography of Jesus Christ, which, like the previous two books, is expected to become an international bestseller, with an initial print run of a million copies.
The inclusion of domestic animals in the Nativity scene may have been inspired by pre-Christian traditions, Pope Benedict wrote.
But children around the world need not be too disappointed – the German pontiff said that the tradition of donkeys or oxen beside the manger was so deeply entrenched that it would doubtless survive his scepticism.
"No one will give up the oxen and the donkey in their Nativity scenes," he writes in the book, which goes on sale today.
The book, 'Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives', traces Christ's early life until the age of 12 and will be published around the world in nine languages. (© Daily Telegraph, London)