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Vatican Nativity unveiled

Vatican Nativity unveiled


On Friday evening December 7, the Vatican unveiled the giant sand Nativity Scene in the middle of St. Peter’s Square, and, on the other side of the obelisk – set the 23-meter high red fir Christmas tree ablaze with glistening lights. Both the sand and tree were gifts from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The San Pietrini (St. Peter’s maintenance staff) and four international sculptors have been busily working on the Nativity since November 20 when the 1,300 cubic meters or 700 tons of sand were brought in from the Dolomites. The sculptors responsible were Richard Varano (USA), Ilya Filimontsev (Russia), Susanne Ruseler (Holland), and Rodovan Ziuny (Czech Republic). I spoke briefly to Ilya Filimontsev who was proud to be working on the Angel and at the center of the sand construction - on Jesus, Joseph and Mary - no small feat!

The Christmas tree, from Cansiglio in Pordenone (northern Italy), was raised early on the morning of November 22 by an enormous crane, and locals had been awaiting the lighting with much anticipation.

At the inauguration ceremony on Friday evening, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governatorato, formally opened the festivities and invited Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, Patriarch of Venice and Bishop Giuseppe Pellegrini of Concordia-Pordenone to speak. A traditional folk dance group from Jesolo entertained those present before the Gendarme band played the Italian National anthem

Archbishop Moraglia spoke of his delight at having a great piece of their soil here at the Vatican. “A transformation and project of peace such as this, of grains of sand into a glorious work of art is a God-given gift to man”, responded the Mayor of Jesolo.

The band played Silent Night while the 5:00 pm bells of St. Peter’s tolled in the background, and not a sound was made in the square.

Then the result of 24 trucks of sand was revealed! The tradition of a sand Nativity Scene has a 17 year history in Jesolo (Venice). The First Noel was sung by the choir - also from Pordenone - and the Bishop of Pordenone remarked that, “The tree carries with it the character of the Friuli region from where it was gifted.” In other words, it is a true representation of the cultural and religious roots of the region.


Then it came time for a small child from Pordenone to turn on the tree lights, sponsored by technology company Osram. The CEO spoke of light “representing hope and warmth in a place of community” such as St. Peter’s Square where many will be able to contemplate the meaning of Christmas under the light of the tree. Osram has also illuminated the works in the Vatican Museums’ Raphael Rooms, amongst other projects in collaboration with the Vatican. 

Finally, Handel’s Cantate Domino was sung by the Jesolo-based choir.

The Nativity Scene and Christmas Tree will remain on display until the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus on 13 January 2019.

Images showing sculpture details and Christmas tree were taken the morning of December 7, 2018.

*For more information and images of the Vatican Christmas Tree, see my previous blog post.

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