In the course of sorting through my photos from last Christmas, I came across several photos of an interesting phenomenon, the travels of the Old Lady with a basket of eggs. Everybody will recognize this figure, which appears in Nativity scenes all over Spain.
The Old Lady appears to have been introduced by Salzillo and is an 18th century figure more typical of the Neapolitan style than of either the earlier Spanish style or the later "belen hebreo," that is, the Biblical style scene that tried to be more historically accurate. The 18th century loved figures performing tasks common in contemporary daily life, and Salzillo has many such, although perhaps the Old Lady is the one whose appearance became most typical and widespread.
Not that there's anything inaccurate about the Old Lady with a Basket of Eggs. Undoubtedly, there were many old ladies carrying baskets of eggs in the Jewish and Roman villages of Gospel times, but none of them made it into the Scriptural accounts. As a result, the Old Lady appears in many scenes from Murcia, which tend to be more Biblical.
She also appears in scenes from the Olot school, but with a difference. Here she has made it all the way to the portal, that is, the stable or cave where the actual Nativity is depicted, and is shown not merely walking along the road to Bethlehem, but kneeling in the straw with the shepherds.
I saw this scene in the belen at the Casa de Correos in Madrid this Christmas, and I was struck by what a lovely, expressive figure she is, the Old Lady with her basket of eggs, who has traveled so far to get here.