Ocean City Today

St. Luke’s Church Christmas village, manger on display

By Kara Hallissey | Jan 04, 2018
For the third year in a row, Rev. Paul Jennings has put up a Christmas village and manger display at St. Luke’s Church on 99th Street.

(Jan. 5, 2018) For the third year in a row, St. Luke’s Church on 99th Street has featured a Christmas village and manger display.

The more than 600-figure nativity scene depicts a wide range of professions and animals with pieces collected from seven different countries: Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Canada.

The scene took more than five hours to set up, over the course of three nights, and will be on display until Friday, Jan. 12 in the church. Each year, the buildings generally stay in the same place while the people move around, depending on new pieces.

“The idea of having the entire Christmas village comes from Italy, Spain and southern France,” said Rev. Paul Jennings, who has collected the treasures for more than three decades and has created the scene at St. Luke’s for the third year. “In addition to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and three kings, in those countries, you have the entire Bethlehem town involved.”

During the French Revolution, midnight mass was banned and public nativity scenes were forbidden. In Southern France, Catholics started to create scenes in their private homes to keep the faith going, he said.

“There is a story surrounding each piece,” Jennings said. “In the old days, each depiction was associated with the baby.”

For example, spinners with their knitting wheels would make Jesus’ swaddling clothes and men who traveled from town to town sharpening knives would also carry the local gossip and spread the story of Jesus being born.

The display at St. Luke’s Church depicts glassblowers, bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, stablemen, basket weavers, spice sellers, farmers, hunters, Roman soldiers, fishermen and musicians each holding a different instrument including symbols, harps, pipes and drums.

“I really like getting a new trade or profession piece each year,” Jennings said. “We have egg sellers, an inn with cooks and a market with bananas, pineapples and onions.”

New pieces that debuted in the display this year include a little girl with two cats, a fish salesman holding an inventory list, a leather tanner, a monk and a priest, and a girl riding a donkey.

“The only piece from Canada, a white angel, I brought back this fall from a Christmas shop,” Jennings said. “We have a bride and groom. Young and old people, children and even a pregnant woman. A couple years ago, I happened to spot a man and lady with chickens [figurine] at a huge outdoor yard sale in Barcelona.”

There are a number of animals such as cows, sheep, donkeys, pigs, geese, ducks, an elephant, roosters, a frog, goats, a camel, dogs, a snake, deer, foxes, a horse, rabbits, squirrels and a raccoon.

Most of the figures are made from an Italian company, Fontanini, which was new to America three decades ago when Jennings began to collect. The rest are a mix of figurines from different parts of the world including “Santons” from France, Jennings said.

“My youngest sister wanted a new nativity set and I knew this company [Fontanini] was starting out and I got her a starter set,” Jennings said. “Her kids loved the display growing up and every year I kept adding to it. When the kids got older, they stopped putting the display up. I bought my sister a smaller nativity scene and took the one we had collected. Now the tables have turned and she continues to buy a new piece for me every year.”

The display inside the church on 99th Street is a combination of purchases between Jennings, his sisters, Connie Gallagher and Maggie Clark, and a parishioner who saw the spectacle in 2016 and donated a number of buildings before he moved away.

Check out the display for another week or so and look forward to the scene at St. Luke’s a week before Christmas for years to come.

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