249 Flanders Road • Bethlehem, CT 06751  |  Directions
Starting on Friday, November 24th, the Creche will be open every day from 10:00 am—4:00 pm until Epiphany, January 6th. It will be closed from January 6th until Easter Sunday.
There is no charge for admission.

Let us now go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.
Luke 2:15
Creche We invite you to visit the Abbey’s 18th-century Neapolitan Crèche, a rare and lavish display of a traditional Nativity scene which is thought to have been created as a gift to Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia, on the occasion of his coronation in 1720. This collection was given to us in 1949 by artist and philanthropist Loretta Hines Howard, who also donated a similar Crèche to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is the centerpiece of the Museum’s Medieval Galleries every Christmas.

Our Crèche underwent a major four-year restoration which was accomplished by a passionate and dedicated team of experts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As stewards with the privilege of caring for this work of art for the public, it was our goal to repair existing damage while maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the entire display.
Presented with daunting aesthetic and technical challenges, and working in collaboration with a gifted local carpenter and architectural restorer, the team achieved the following:
  • All 68 figures, the 20 small animals, and the intricate cork architectural background of the collection were painstakingly restored.
  • A new climate-controlled display encasement was designed and constructed.
  • A new, tempered safety display glass was installed.
  • Fiber-optic lighting was installed to illumine the intricate detail of the life-like figures and their original 18th-century costumes.
  • A mural of a Neapolitan landscape was painted for the display.
  • The 18th-century Bellamy Barn, which houses the Crèche display and is of regional historical interest, was restored.
Read about the restoration of the Crèche and see a gallery of the process in the Smithsonian Magazine.

The Abbey Crèche is intimately entwined with our monastic life and rhythm of work and prayer. In the Rule of St. Benedict, which was written 1500 years ago and which forms the core of our lived spirituality, we are admonished to ...receive each guest as Christ, a lesson taken, in turn, from the Gospels. This central tenet of Benedictine hospitality is expressed through the Crèche, the miracle of the Incarnation re-experienced and re-lived for each person who comes to the Crèche. Each figure in the collection is an individual, involved first in witnessing the miraculous birth, but also involved in the smaller, every day, personal interactions in a small Neapolitan hill town. The figures, made of hand-carved wood, terra cotta, jute and porcelain, vividly portray the Holy Family, angels and the Three Kings, as well as merchants and peddlers, children, a lamplighter, a woman on her donkey transporting vegetables, and peasants and their farm animals. Each figure reflects some human attitude toward the mystery of the Incarnation, from adoration to ambivalence, from curiosity to distraction, allowing us to see the diversity of human response to the world-changing Event in the particularity of the Neapolitan scene.

CrecheWe invite you to come and celebrate and experience this renewed treasure with us. We hope you will find here a contemplative, welcoming place of prayer, wonder, respite and quiet. We pray that the message of hope and renewal embodied in the small figures of the Crèche collection will lend courage in tumultuous times and that as each of you steps into the world of the Crèche display, your hearts will be lifted in the wonder and Mystery of the Nativity of our Lord.

The entire Crèche conservation project was funded through the generosity of individual donors and private and community foundations. We deeply appreciate your help and we are grateful for your continued generosity, which will allow us to sustain the ongoing care of this cherished work of art.

Neapolitan Crèche Gallery

Lauren Ford crecheThe Lauren Ford Crèche is located in a small farm shed near the Lower Abbey Chapel. This Crèche is a charming rustic Nativity scene in which heroic-sized figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are dressed in New England clothes, surrounded by hay in a manger. It was created by Lauren Ford, revered Connecticut artist, who offered hospitality to Lady Abbess and Mother Marie Aline at Sheepfold when they arrived from France in 1947 to create a Monastic Foundation.
Open only during Advent and the Christmas Season.