Crèche Exhibit and Pilgrimage

For the past six years, the McGrath Institute for Church Life has partnered with the Marian Library of Dayton, Ohio, bringing to Notre Dame’s campus an exhibit of crèches, or Nativity scenes, from around the world, and gathering members of the community to pray in procession and prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. 

This year, the coronavirus pandemic prevents us from hosting our annual exhibit and pilgrimage. Instead, we invite you to reflect on the Incarnation in our digital Advent and Christmas Crèche Calendar—a beautiful retrospective selection of crèches from our previous six exhibits. 

Once you sign up, you will receive a daily email through January 10, 2021, with an image and description of a crèche from a different part of the world, along with a brief prayer that you can offer for yourself and your loved ones. Click the button below if you’d like to receive our daily crèche emails.

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Advent is a season when Christians throughout the world rededicate themselves to waiting in hope. We anticipate the coming of Christ, the light of the world, who scatters the darkness of sin and shatters the bonds of death. We prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming in history at Christmas; we ponder the ways that he comes to us in mystery even now, especially in the Eucharist; and we look forward to his coming in glory at the end of time.

In contemplating the mystery of the Word made flesh through the beauty of the Nativity, we are reminded that Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and that he is with us still. Join us as we enter into this beautiful season. Join us “as we await the blessed hope of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

”Images of Jesus’ nativity remind us that God has made our world his home.”

-John Cavadini

Preview Some of This Year's Digital Advent Calendar

Tree Of Life

Crafted at the only Christian art studio in China, this extraordinary crèche radiates serenity. Mary and Joseph stand tall and dignified, keeping watch over the newborn Messiah and warmly receiving those who wish to pay him homage. Even the angels float above the stable with an effortless tranquility. This peacefulness is even more remarkable when one recalls that many Christians in China face persecution and must live out their faith in secret. The ornately carved trees recall the connection between the wood of the manger and the wood of the Cross, inspiring the viewer to put his or her faith not in worldly powers, but in the power of Jesus, who encouraged his disciples the night before he died, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

Image courtesy of The Marian Library (Dayton, Ohio); used with permission. Text by Carolyn Pirtle, ©McGrath Institute for Church Life, 2020.


Travlers Palm

The simplicity and symmetry of this crèche emphasize the central artistic element: the palm tree which offers shade and comfort to the Holy Family as they flee the murderous wrath of King Herod. In imagining the long journey from Bethlehem to Egypt, this artist depicts a moment of rest underneath a tree. Its hospitable branches literally overshadow the Child Jesus, who seems to almost merge into the tree. It also suggests another tree—the Cross—which Christ will embrace to open to humanity the road back to God.

Image courtesy of The Marian Library (Dayton, Ohio); used with permission. Text by Theresa Rice, ©McGrath Institute for Church Life, 2019.



The many figures in this vibrant crèche were painstakingly crafted in the style of the Huichol people, who specialize in beadwork. The tiny beads are pressed into beeswax which surrounds clay forms to create intricate patterns and physical features. Joy and wonder are seen in each smiling face, and the tilt of the animals’ heads suggests curiosity at the Infant in the manger. This crèche undoubtedly took many hours and many hundreds if not thousands of beads to make; it is proof that even the smallest of objects can be made into something that points to God, who became a tiny Infant for our sakes.

Images courtesy of The Marian Library (Dayton, Ohio); used with permission. Text by Carolyn Pirtle, ©McGrath Institute for Church Life, 2017.