Introduction to Our Speaker in Georgia : Dr. Michael DeSanctis
My Vocation as a Creche-Builder
Michael E. DeSanctis, Ph.D.
For thirty-five years I served as a professor of fine arts and theology at a Catholic, diocesan university in Erie, Pennsylvania. As a natural extension of the teaching I did in the classroom, I began about a decade ago to construct original, large-scale Nativity scenes for display each Advent/Christmastide in the showcase windows of the school’s centrally-located bookstore. The annual displays quickly became a popular part of the Christmas experience on campus for students and faculty alike and subsequently attracted national attention for their size and complexity. From the start, I conceived of them simply as expressions of “theology in three dimensions” that would engage the minds of their admirers no less than their senses.
Though I recently left my academic position to devote greater time to writing and to serving church communities throughout across the United States as a liturgical designer/consultant, my preoccupation with creche-building continues. A major portion of my daily, “post-retirement” schedule, in fact, is spent in the attic-studio of the home I maintain with my wife. It’s there, on any given day, that visitors can find a creche or two in some stage of construction and the completed parts of others tucked away for safekeeping. The majority of my Nativities are currently stored on the campus of a local Presbyterian church, however, where they’ve come to occupy nearly every corner of an abandoned classroom. On the First Sunday of Advent, the scenes reappear from storage as seasonal adornments for the congregation’s large, neo-Gothic place of worship. A local historical society has further widened the audience for my works—most of which measure approximately six feet wide and four feet high—by making them Christmastime decor within for the Victorian mansion it maintains as museum.
I’ve included in this blogpost some photos of a handful of creches from previous Christmases that are representative of my work along with one depicting the walled profile of Ancient Bethlehem, which I’ve nearly completed for 2022. These and others are bound to be included in the illustrated presentation I’m slated to make at the November annual meeting of Friends of the Creche at the Epworth by the Sea Conference Center in Saint Simons Island, Georgia. I look forward to introducing myself in person to many of you, fellow Nativity scene enthusiasts, at the Georgia event and hope to trade stories about our mutual interest in the fascinating art of the creche.