The scene of Christ's birth is one of the most tender and enduring Christmas traditions. It has its origin in the Middle Ages, but came to bloom as popular culture only in the 17/18th centuries. Originally rooted in three centers (Naples; the Provence, France; and Southern Germany and Austria), nativity sets have spread all over the world, thanks, not least, to missionary efforts. Contemporary culture, with its noted preference for the visual and tactile, seems to have rediscovered this form of popular religious art.
In late summer of 1994, The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton began an earnest effort to collect various contemporary cultural expressions of the nativity scene. To date, the collection holds more than 3,500 crèches from many parts of the world, some of them on permanent display in the Marian Library's Crèche Museum. However, collecting and displaying is not an end in itself. The Marian Library uses its crèches to promote the study of culture and religion, and has set the following goals: to show how strongly and permanently culture and religion influence and enrich each other, to pinpoint some of the psychological and sociological implications of the Christmas tradition to highlight the aesthetic dimension of religious culture and to make better known the meaning of the Christmas event.
The development of The Marian Library's Crèche Collection was and is entirely based on the generous contributions of friends and donors. The collection has developed into an ongoing project which finds expression in academic research and courses. The nativity sets of the Marian Library's Crèche Collection celebrate the Incarnation through the styles, expressions and traditions of peoples across the globe.
(Father Johann Roten and Rita Bocher will be posting periodically from the University of Dayton's collection. All rights and publishing authority are subject to permission from the University of Dayton).