10 of the most beautiful, moving, or original displays adorning St. Peter's Square in the annual Nativity scene exhibit. What's your favorite?
As Christmas approaches, St. Peter’s Square is again filled with more than a hundred nativity scenes! One hundred and twenty cribs of all shapes, sizes, and materials adorn the colonnade of the Square for the fifth edition of the annual exhibition, “100 Cribs in the Vatican.”
Here are 10 of what we considered the best displays.
1. Remembering 440 angels from Ukraine this Christmas
As soon as one walks into the exhibit, the first Nativity scene will remind viewers of the horrors of war. The most striking feature is a Christmas tree placed right next to the crib. On the tree, 440 white angels represent the number of children who have died since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. The angels are “motanka,” a traditional Ukrainian doll. The actual Nativity scene, donated by the Ukrainian Embassy to the Holy See, has been transported from the Church of St. Nicholas the Thaumaturge in Kyiv, which is also part of the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine. The scene in fact has many symbols recalling Ukrainian folk and agricultural life.
2. Christmas for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity
This unique Nativity scene will bring the viewer on a journey across the main Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A light that periodically illuminates different portions of the work, representing the moments in the day, helps the viewer understand the commonalities between these three religions. At the center of the display there is Jesus with Mary and Joseph. Other important elements featured are Abraham and Isaac, Moses, the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
3. Next stop: Bethlehem!
ATAC, Rome’s public transport company, strikes again this year with another bus-themed Nativity scene. While the driver is doing her job in the front seat, Baby Jesus is being born in the back. Rome’s typical red bus has been transformed into Bethlehem, complete with bushes and shepherds and their animals.
4. The story of a homeless man who loved Nativity scenes
At the back of this display box, which contains multiple Nativity scenes, there is a crib with a unique story. It was made by Gioacchino Rezza, a recovering alcoholic who has loved making cribs ever since he was a child. The message pinned up next to his work explains that at the height of his addiction, he was homeless and living in St. Peter’s Square. Rezza has been recovering from his addiction at the rehabilitation center Giacomo Cusmano not far from Rome. There he was able to rediscover his passion for making Nativity scenes. “After everything I have lived through, after sleeping right here as a homeless person, having my Nativity scene at the 100 Nativity exhibition makes me feel like a person reborn,” the message said.
5. The Vatican’s firefighters protect Baby Jesus
The Vatican City State’s firefighters not only protect the pope and other Vatican residents but also Baby Jesus! In this Nativity scene the baby is nestled in the back of the truck they use to fight fires and save lives. The three magi softly approach the vehicle with their gifts.
6. The Pope prays for the Holy Family
Through the open doors of this Nativity scene, protected faithfully by the Swiss Guards, observers can get a sneak peek into a Vatican room. Pope Francis is on his knees praying intently, his staff lying by his side. In front of him a young Mary and Joseph cradle their Baby Jesus.
7. A new life after a tragedy
On January 18, 2017, an avalanche in Rigopiano in the Abruzzo region (Italy) killed 29 people. Franca Petricca created this intricate Nativity scene out of the branches and roots she found strewn after the avalanche. A crib that is a symbol of hope and rebirth after a tragedy.
8. The pope loves grandparents!
Care for the elderly and the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren are central themes to Pope Francis’ pontificate. This Nativity scene captures that perfectly with the Argentine Pontiff’s hands outstretched over a grandfather and his two grandchildren, who are gathered around a small but cozy Nativity scene.
9. An apocalyptic Nativity scene
The cross of Christ radiates light above the Holy Family, who are surrounded by water, arid deserts and thundering skies. Amidst the apocalyptic nature that seems to have enveloped the world, Jesus is triumphant at the center of the Nativity scene, as Mary, Joseph, the magi, and animals surround him.
10. Hope in the midst of a conflict
The exhibit begins with a reminder of the horrors of the war in Ukraine and ends with a display box with multiple Nativity scenes that symbolize a message of hope amongst the conflict. One small Nativity scene is located inside a piece of fruit, which is set on top of an open yellow and blue palm. In another the Holy Family is safe inside a half destroyed Church, as soldiers stand guard outside and children witness the birth of baby Jesus and a blue light radiates across the scene. In yet another, made by a Ukrainian nun, the Nativity scene is displayed inside the Azovstal steel plant, which was under siege by Russian forces for several months during the war. The Sister wanted to “transmit to the world that the young Jesus is also born in Ukraine, which suffers from the violence of war.”