Christmas in Connecticut: Nativities in New Haven, Hamden and Middletown

On Exhibit – Nov. 21, 2008 to Feb. 1, 2009

Eighth Annual Christmas Tree Festival

This Christmas season, the Knights of Columbus Museum presents two Nativity exhibitions: a fourth international crèche show and a new, local feature.

The larger, traditional exhibition features nearly 80 crèches from across Europe, borrowed from three American collections, as well as a vast, Neapolitan diorama from Italy. Many of the other crèches on display were made by local craftsmen in small villages from the Alps to the newly liberated nations of Eastern Europe. They show an abundance of skill and style. The Connecticut component will feature dioramas crafted by local high school students.

Nativities of Europe: Folk Art to Fine Art features representative crèches from more than two dozen nations, including Ireland Germany, Poland, France, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Nearly all of the European crèches bring the birth of Jesus into their region or village, reminding the viewer that the Nativity is seen as a universal event celebrated by Christians across the globe.

Principally from the European collections of the Marian Library at University of Dayton (Ohio), the James L. Govan collection (Virginia) and the Rev. Timothy Goldrick collection (Massachusetts), the nativities on display represent a broad spectrum of workmanship and national interpretations of the birth of Jesus Christ, including hand-carved figures, miniatures, shadow boxes, marionettes and paper figures ranging from exquisite detail to child-like simplicity.

Neapolitan crèches, known as presepes, are the world’s benchmark, representing the highest standard of the most skilled artists from the Naples region. The 24-foot-wide Neapolitan presepe, created by Lina Pontecorvo, is on loan from Fine Arts Services in Sorrento, Italy, and includes more than 80 figures with highly detailed expressions and attire.

Set in the 18th century, the presepe’s focal point is Holy Family, surrounded by everyday characters, from patrons in a bustling tavern to the shepherds tending their flocks out in the fields. Visitors will enjoy the time required to study and appreciate the vast diorama’s multitude of activities and its magnificent workmanship.

A Connecticut Christmas features the craftsmanship of students at two Catholic secondary schools, Sacred Heart Academy and Xavier High School, who undertook the design and construction of dioramas that place the birth of Jesus in their respective towns.

Sacred Heart Academy’s Nativity scene is placed at the foot of Hamden’s Sleeping Giant State Park observation tower, with contemporary and historic landmarks places visible in the snow-covered diorama’s distance.

Middletown’s Xavier High School takes viewers back to the 1930s, placing the birth of Jesus in the middle of this historic river port city, once the state’s busiest. The Holy Family is prominent at the center of an Italian Christmas festival at the steps of Saint Sebastian Church, built by Italian artisans and stone masons in that era.

Another Connecticut crèche depicts the Christmas scene outside New Haven’s Saint Mary Church in 1882. The Christ Child is adored by shepherds, wise men and parish curate Father Michael McGivney, who founded the Knights of Columbus at Saint Mary Church that year.

The Knights of Columbus Museum is open 10-5 daily (except Christmas Eve and Christmas day) during the show, which concludes Feb. 1, 2009. Admission and onsite parking are free.