The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I have always loved Christmas crèches, and the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Library has quite a collection of them from around the world on display right now. Yesterday, while taking a study break, I shot a few pictures from the dozens of crèches exhibited (the one photographed above is not one of them; more on that in a minute).

The exhibit features crèches from the monastery collection, as well as the Catherine A. Smith Nativity Collection, donated to Saint Meinrad in 2002 in memory of Charles Patrick Smith, who studied for the priesthood at Saint Meinrad and later served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Ms. Smith is his sister, who collected the Nativity sets from her travels around the world beginning in 1971. Displayed along with the crèches are drawings depicting the birth of Christ made by area children, which is a nice touch (for more information on the exhibit, click here).

Posted below are photographs of my favorites from the library exhibit. It seems I was primarily drawn to crèches carved from natural substances such as wood or stone—particularly from one piece.

There is something about crèches that captivates me, something I cannot explain. I could literally sit and gaze at any one of these for hours. This has been a lifelong fascination.

The crèche shown at the top of this post (not from the library collection) is more traditional in the Western mold, and is probably at least 50 years old. Aesthetically, it may be nothing special, but it is dear to me because it is the one my family had while I was growing up. During the Christmas season, it would be placed on top of the sewing machine near the door to the garage in our family room—a high-traffic area.

As a child, I spent a lot of time in front of this crèche. In the evenings, I loved to turn off all the lights in the room and then switch on the tiny bulb placed within the roof of this crèche so that it would be the only light in the room. And I would stay there gazing at it for a long time.

Years later, once we kids were grown up, and my parents moved out of our childhood home, my mother asked me if I wanted to keep the crèche. I have had it ever since, and have faithfully hauled it out of storage every Christmas.

Today, it is in my cell in the monastery, placed on a writing table directly in front of my reading chair. In the evenings, I can still turn off all the lights in the room and then switch on the tiny bulb inside the crèche so that it is the only light in the room. And now, if I keep the shutters to my window open, in the background is a view of the twin sandstone spires of the Archabbey Church.

Linden wood, from Salzburg, Austria

Stone bas relief, from India.

Carved wood, from Kenya

Carved wood, from Munich, Germany

Carved coal, from West Virginia

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