For me, one of my favorite Christmas displays is the creche. There are so many variations of the nativity scene located in various places, but did you know the Pittsburgh Creche is particularly special?
When you first see the creche, which is located in the plaza of the US Steel Tower, you will notice its size and grandeur. What you might not know is the creche is the world’s only authorized replica of the Vatican’s Christmas Creche which is on display in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
How did the Creche Got to Pittsburgh
So how did the only replica of the Vatican’s Creche make it to Pittsburgh? The story began in 1993 when Pittsburgh businessman Louis D. Astorino, chairman of the Pittsburgh architectural firm L.D. Astorino Companies saw the Vatican creche on a trip to Rome. He was so moved by the beauty of the Vatican’s display that he envisioned a similar one in Pittsburgh.
Astorino worked with the Vatican to gain approval and eventually secured the plans for the creche. At that point, Astorino commissioned sculptor Pietro Simonelli to recreate the life-size figures for Pittsburgh’s Creche. The Pittsburgh Creche opened for the public for the first time in its permanent location in 1999.
The Art of the Creche
The creche of today features 20 life-size figures. The original figures included Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, three shepards, a servant girl, and three angels. Simonelli also sculpted various barnyard animals such as a camel, donkey, an ox, a cow, a ram, and a goat. In recent years, an angel was added by the sculptor to hand over the manger and the animals in the stable were joined by a full-size cow.
The stable also follows the original plans of Vatican architect Umberto Mezzana. It measures 64 feet wide, 42 feet high, 36 feet deep, and weighs 66,000 pounds.
The figures were designed by first creating wooden frames for the bodies. The hands, feet, and faces were molded from clay and covered with papier-mache. The figures were clothed in clothes made by local, Pittsburgh-area women, according to Vatican tradition. Here’s a fascinating inside look at exactly how the Pittsburgh Creche is built each year. Thanks to PGH Museums for sharing!
Going To See the Creche
The Pittsburgh Creche is available for viewing 24 hours a day at the U.S. Steel Plaza. It opens on Light Up Night and will remain open until Epiphany in January.
The Vatican in Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Creche isn’t the only thing in Pittsburgh that is unique outside of the Vatican. St. Anthony’s Chapel has the largest collection of relics outside of the Vatican, including a piece of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns. St. Patrick’s Church in the Strip District is home to a replica of the Holy Stairs, which is one of only three sets in the United States outside of the Vatican.