Visiting the Pittsburgh Crèche During the Holidays

The Replica of the Vatican's Crèche is Only One of Its Kind

Pittsburgh Crèche
Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 0

Each holiday season, the Pittsburgh Crèche delights visitors in historic downtown Pittsburgh. This larger-than-life nativity scene is the world’s only authorized replica of the Vatican’s Christmas crèche, which goes on display in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Each year, more than 250,000 people spend time admiring Pennsylvania's gorgeous tribute in its stunning location in the courtyard of the towering U.S. Steel Tower.

How the Crèche 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 crèche 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 crèche, he commissioned sculptor Pietro Simonelli to re-create the figures for Pittsburgh's version of the famous nativity scene. The Pittsburgh Crèche 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 figures of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus; three shepherds; a servant girl; and three angels. These are complemented with various barnyard 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. It weighs about 66,000 pounds.

The figures in the crèche were built by first erecting wooden frames for their bodies. Then, their hands, feet, and faces were modeled from clay and covered with papier-mâchéClothing for the figures was designed and sewed by Pittsburgh-area women, according to the Vatican tradition.

When to Visit

The Pittsburgh Crèche is open to the public 24 hours a day at U.S. Steel Plaza. It opens every year on Pittsburgh's Comcast Light Up Night, which opens on November 17, 2019, and remains open until Epiphany on January 6, 2020. Local musicians and choruses often perform inspirational Christmas music for visitors at the nativity scene.

How to Get There

The U.S. Steel Plaza is located in the Cultural District neighborhood of of Pittsburgh where the Ohio River forks off into the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River. You'll find it across from the First Lutheran Church and Mellon Green Park. It is accessible by either the red or blue train lines with the closest station being Steel Plaza Station, but if you are driving from the airport to the plaza, take Exit 71A from I-376 E and continue onto Grant Street to get to the Cultural District. If you are driving north on Grant Street, the plaza will be on your right.

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