Every holiday season, the Pittsburgh Crèche delights visitors in historic downtown Pittsburgh. This larger-than-life nativity scene is the world’s only authorized replica of the Vatican Christmas nursery, on display in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Each year, more than 250,000 people spend time admiring Pennsylvania’s beautiful tribute in its impressive courtyard setting of the imposing US Steel Tower.
How the nursery came to Pittsburgh
During a business trip to Rome in 1993, Louis D. Astorino, president of the Pittsburgh LD Astorino Companies architectural firm, saw the Vatican nursery for the first time and was moved by its beauty. Visualizing a similar exhibit in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Astorino worked to gain approval from Vatican officials. Once he secured the actual plans for the nursery, he commissioned sculptor Pietro Simonelli to re-create the figures for the Pittsburgh version of the famous nativity scene. Pittsburgh Creche was first opened for public viewing in December 1999 at its permanent downtown location.
What you will see
Each year, a total of 20 life-size figures are on display, including the original figures of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus; three shepherds one maid; and three angels.These are complemented by various barnyard animals, such as a camel, a donkey, an ox, a cow, a ram and a goat. In later years, the sculptor added an angel to hang over the crib, and the animals in the manger were attached to a full-size reclining cow. Built from the original plans by the Vatican architect Umberto Mezzana, the stable is 64 feet wide, 42 feet high, and 36 feet deep.
It weighs about 66,000 pounds.
The figures in the nursery were built by first erecting wooden frames for their bodies. Then their hands, feet, and faces were modeled from clay and covered with papier-mâché . The clothing for the figures was designed and sewn by religious women from the Pittsburgh area, in accordance with Vatican tradition.
When to visit
Pittsburgh Creche is open to the public 24 hours a day at US Steel Plaza. It opens each year at Pittsburgh’s Comcast Light Up Night, which is on November 18, 2018, and remains open until Epiphany on January 6, 2019. Local musicians and choirs often perform inspirational Christmas music for visitors at the Belen.