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The Crèche at Regina Laudis: The Timeless story of a birth in Bethlehem …

crèche Regina Laudis.JPG

If the crèche at
the Abbey of
Regina Laudis
strikes you as a little out place, there’s a good
reason. The austere Yankee barn that houses it is a world away from its previous
home. Handcrafted by artisans in Naples, the intricate nativity scene was
presented as a coronation gift to Victor Amadeus II, king of Sardina, in 1720.
It remained among Italian nobility until it was purchased by Loretta Hines
Howard, an artist and collector, in 1949. She immediately donated it to what
was then a fledgling Benedictine Abbey in, fittingly, Bethlehem, Connecticut
(although the nuns insist the name is a coincidence). 

The crèche takes a few
liberties with the traditional nativity story. Instead of a Judean village,
Bethlehem appears here somewhere on the coast of Italy. The stable has been
replaced by Corinthian columns, and the traditional kings and shepherds are
joined by a whole host of other characters, who have shed their New Testament
robes for 18th-century knickers and coats. In one corner, some
peasants argue over the contents of a stem pot. In another, a noblewoman walks
her whippet on a leash. The crowd is puzzling at first, though it may
serve  a distinct purpose. “For as
many people as there are, there are attitudes toward the birth of Christ,” says
Sister Angèle Arbib, who helps care for the crèche. She points out some figures
who seems reverential, others who seem distracted or dis-believing: “It’s so
representative. When people come here to see the crèche, they identify with
someone in here.”

And people of all faiths do come to see it. The mass of
Christmas pilgrims has returned after a recent restoration had taken the crèche
out of public view for three years. Conservators from New York’s Metropolitan
Museum of Art painstakingly repaired each of the 68 figures and the tiny
hand-sewn outfits they wear. The results are stunning. The crèche now stands as
a testament to the continued support of the community of nuns,
preservationists, and believers that has formed around it. It’s fitting. After
all, what is a nativity other than a story of people coming together?



November/December, Vol. 74, No. 6.

Abbey of Regina Laudis

273 Flanders Road

Bethlehem, CT

The crèche is open to the public daily 10-4 through Jan. 5 (closed Jan. 6-Apr. 24)


Thanks is due to St Francis of Assisi for the Nativity Scene

Just prior to Christmas Pope Benedict XVI reflected on
Saint Francis of Assisi’s gift to the Church in 1223 of the Nativity scene.
Then, as now we see Humility, Jesus, encountering the nihilism of the world, a
people who entranced with violence and anger now faced with the Prince of
Peace, the true king of the universe.

In homes and Churches across the world it is typical to see a Nativity scene prepared. Over the years my family has had a small nativity scene present in our home. It is not a great piece of art and it is not something we’ve done historically, but it is something that is now a regular part of our Christmas decorations. In fact, it is left out throughout the year as I move it around the house as a small reminder of the God becoming one of us.

But let’s not forget that a Nativity scene and Christmas tree is not that old of a tradition for St. Peter’s Square. John Paul II made the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square a priority in 1982 because he felt the world needed to encounter the image of God made man, Jesus, the Eternal Word of God come into our humanity history. Thinking that the crèche still had relevance for the modern person in 2004, John Paul said of the Nativity scene,

Christmas is upon us and in many places people are setting up a crèche, like here in St Peter’s. Whether big or small, fancy or simple, the crèche is a familiar and expressive representation of Christmas. It is part of our culture and art but a sign of faith in God who, in Bethlehem, ‘made his dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). As I do every year, I shall bless the “Bambinelli,” the statues of Baby Jesus. which will be placed in the crèche on Holy Night, joining Joseph and Mary, who are silent witnesses of a sublime Mystery. With loving eyes, they tell us to wait and pray in order to welcome the Divine Savior who is coming to bring the world the joy of Christmas.

Pope Benedict speaks about Saint Francis’ gift of the Crib

St Francis & crib Giotto.jpg

With St. Francis and his
nativity, the defenseless love of God was shown, his humility and goodness,
which in the incarnation of the Word is manifested to man so as to teach a new
way to live and to love. He saw a little child lying still in a manger; the
child woke up because Francis approached… ‘This vision was not different than
real life, since through the work of his grace acting by way of his holy
servant Francis, the Child Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of many. Thanks
to St. Francis, the Christian people have been able to perceive that at
Christmas, God truly has become Emmanuel, God-with-us, from whom no barrier or
distance can separate us. In this Child, God has come so near to each one of
us, so close, that we can address him with confidence and maintain with him a
trusting relationship of deep affection, as we do with a newborn. In this
Child, in fact, God-Love is manifested: God comes without weapons, without
strength, because he does not aim to conquer, we could say, from without, but
rather wants to be welcomed by man in liberty. God becomes a defenseless Child to
conquer man’s pride, violence and desire to possess. In Jesus, God took up this
poor and defenseless condition to conquer with love and lead us to our true
identity … so that he concedes to our hearts this simplicity that recognizes
the Lord in this Child, precisely as Francis did in Greccio. Then, we too can
experience what […] happened to those present […] ‘Each one returned to his
house filled with an ineffable joy. 

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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