Each holiday season, the Pittsburgh Creche delights visitors to downtown Pittsburgh. This larger-than-life nativity scene 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 the Creche Came to Pittsburgh
During a business trip to Rome in 1993, Louis D. Astorino, chairman of the Pittsburgh architectural firm L.D. Astorino Companies, first saw the Vatican creche and was moved by its beauty.
Envisioning a similar display in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Astorino worked to gain approval from Vatican officials. Once he secured the actual plans for the creche, he commissioned sculptor Pietro Simonelli to re-create the figures for Pittsburgh's version of the famous nativity scene. The Pittsburgh Creche first opened for public viewing in December 1999 at its permanent location downtown.
What You Will See
Each year, a total of 20 life-size figures are on display, including the original three shepherds, a woman and a child, a servant girl, and three angels, along with various animals, such as a camel, a donkey, an ox, a cow, a ram, and a goat. In recent years, an angel was added by the sculptor to hang over the crib, and the animals in the manger were joined by a full-size reclining cow. Built from the original plans of Vatican architect Umberto Mezzana, the stable is 64 feet wide, 42 feet high, and 36 feet deep and weighs about 66,000 pounds.
The figures in the creche were built by first building wooden frames. Then the hands, feet, and faces were modeled from clay and covered with papier-mache. The figures' clothing was designed and sewed by Pittsburgh-area religious women according to the Vatican tradition.
When to Visit
The Pittsburgh Creche is open to the public 24 hours a day at U.S. Steel Plaza in downtown Pittsburgh.
It opens every year on Pittsburgh's Light Up Night, which in 2017 is on Nov. 17, and remains open until every year until Epiphany, Jan. 6. More than a quarter of a million visitors view the nativity scene every year during the holiday season. Local musicians and choruses often perform inspirational Christmas music for visitors. The goal of this community project is to preserve the true meaning of Christmas, as well as to inspire those who visit the nativity scene to help others, says the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.