Crèche Exhibit and Pilgrimage

Since 2014, 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. 

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from hosting our annual exhibit and pilgrimage, and sadly, such is the case this year as well. However, we are once again happy to invite you to reflect on the Incarnation in our digital Advent and Christmas Crèche Calendar—a beautiful selection including crèches from our previous six exhibits, as well as crèches never before seen on the Notre Dame campus.

Once you sign up, you will receive a daily email through January 9, 2022, 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. As a special addition, each Sunday’s email will also include a link to a musical performance by one of the seven talented choirs from Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart

This year, the McGrath Institute is partnering not only with the Marian Library on this project, but also St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Several members of the St. John’s University Campus Ministry staff have contributed sixteen of the crèche descriptions, and we are grateful for their participation. 

Complete the form below to sign up for 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

Our Life And Light

The flowers winding through these ceramic figures and the bright colors of this crèche represent vibrant and unconquerable life. The animals surrounding the crèche display an endearing curiosity as they tenderly stretch their faces closer to the sleeping Child, while the stylized postures of the human figures suggest a peaceful contemplation. The indefatigable life of this crèche display reminds us that Christ’s birth is the mark of hope: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

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

A Staircase To Heaven

Starting from the top right, the Blessed Virgin Mary kneels as the archangel Gabriel announces that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovers over the scene, as the Incarnation of Christ is set into being. Both sets of stairs lead down to the scene of the Nativity, where Mary, St. Joseph, and a host of animals, shepherds, and angels have all come to witness the birth of the Christ-Child. The left staircase then leads back up to the scene of the Crucifixion, with Mary and St. John mourning at the feet of Christ on the Cross. The central and largest section of this crèche is a replication of the scene of the Last Supper as painted by Leonardo da Vinci, its scale reflecting the tremendous importance of the event as it is celebrated in the Mass. This mother of pearl masterpiece is a coalescence of the Christian faith, demonstrating the intrinsic importance of all aspects of the life of Christ, from before his birth to after his Death and Resurrection.

Image courtesy of The Marian Library (Dayton, Ohio); used with permission. Description text by Dana Livingston; ©St. John’s University, 2021. Used with permission.

Silent Night

The monochromatic figures in this crèche speak to a simplicity of spirit, while the details of body language and facial expressions speak to a joyfulness of heart. Many of the figures have smiles on their faces: Mary, the shepherd on the left, the wise man on the right. There is a lilting dynamism in this crèche. All of the standing figures are bent on a graceful diagonal: from the tilt of their heads to the sweep of their garments, all are inclined toward the newborn King. In turn, from his manger bed, the Christ-Child reaches as far as his infant arms will go, eager to embrace not only those who surround him with love and adoration, but the entire world. May we incline our hearts toward him this season and always, and allow him to embrace us with the fullness of his love.

Image courtesy of The Marian Library (Dayton, Ohio); used with permission. Description text by Carolyn Pirtle; ©McGrath Institute for Church Life, 2021.