Whatever your faith, or background, there’s something at the heart of the World Nativities exhibit at Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn that most people can probably relate to – family.
The religious art and history museum, once the early 20th-century home of Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn and their children, displays dozens of three-dimensional nativity scenes collected from around the world every holiday season.
“We know the Pitcairn family loved nativity scenes,” said Joralyn Glenn, who does marketing and public relations for Glencairn. “They even have medieval ones throughout the building. So, to have this exhibit was natural. And, I just love to see how different cultures are incorporated into the scenes, like the wise men bringing different gifts.”
In this ninth exhibition of Glencairn Museum's World Nativities, more than 40 nativity scenes will be tucked everywhere throughout the castle through January 7.
Half are from the growing Glencairn collection, the other half are on loan, and 20 come from different countries. New this year are nativities from the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut.
Often referred to as a crèche, an old French word for manger or crib, the nativity scene, also known as presepio in Italian, represents a family’s national, regional, and local culture by featuring distinctive structures, clothing, and animals.
So, for example, a zebra, or llama might be used instead of an ox or donkey at the scene. The piece may be crated from clay, wood, wool, grass, banana leaves, and even coconuts.“The idea was that a family would build this together in their house,” Glenn said. “Some would take up whole rooms, but it’s a whole village, or the whole world, really, coming to see the Holy Family.”
“Everyone can appreciate the story and celebration of someone being born,” she added. “The history, the art of it all is something everyone can relate to. For people of faith, it’s uplifting, and brings back memories, and personal connections. I remember assembling my family’s own nativity in my home growing up.”
As do I.
Still, it’s interesting to see how different people around the globe might interpret other meanings from the same story we may recall.
Take, for instance, the Flemish Nativity. Crafted between 2014 and 2017 by New Jersey husband and wife, Karen Loccisano and R. Michael Palan, the setting features an angel based on the painting, “Adoration of the Magi,” which is believed to contain the earliest visual depiction of a child with the characteristics of Down Syndrome.
Or, like the Nativity from Naples, which was collected over 30 years by the late Elizabeth Anne Evans, a former area resident, during her annual trips to Italy. Representing daily life in the bustling port city of Naples, the scene includes large characters, and crumbling Roman ruins, a symbol of a falling empire. The work is on loan from the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia.
Photos don’t do it justice, folks. You’ve got to see this one in person.
Plus, you can just enjoy the nativities visually, do a seek and find with the kids, or go deeper with “Do You See What I See? Imagery in Nativity Scenes,” an extra element in the Great Hall Library that delves into the context of the origins of the colors, theology, and artistic tradition.
Besides, who doesn’t want to spend Christmas in a Castle?!
The holiday has been celebrated in Glencarin since the late 1930s, and usually includes a concert, a guided tour showcasing how the Pitcairns decorated, a view of downtown Philadelphia from the observation deck tower on a clear day, and other seasonal activities.
Make a day, or weekend, of it by touring the other properties on-site with holiday tea at Cairnwood Estate, the family’s former home, and the Christmas pageant and church services at Bryn Athyn Cathedral.Visit the museum’s website for more information: glencairnmuseum.org, or check out www.bahistoricdistrict.org to find out about seasonal happenings at Cairnwood Estate and Bryn Athyn Cathedral.