An Epiphany Gift: History of the Franciscan Sisters Unique Christmas Crib

Paul Keggington

January 05, 2013

How many of you know the history of your own family -treasured Christmas crib? We’d like to share about our own unique Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity crib and its artistic value as our special Epiphany post. Sister Teresita Kittell wrote this description in winter 1974. Today she celebrates this feast in heaven with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the humble, wise souls. Watch for kings to appear on Sunday.

Made by a wood carver from Germany in the early 1900’s, it reflects the best of the folk-art from the Austrian Tyrol and Germany’e Black Forest.

The focal point, naturally, is the Christ Child with Mary and Joseph in a realistic rocky cave, but rising in the background are the towers and domes of Jerusalem ablaze with lights. One can almost hear the “sound of revelry by night” as the colored lights gleam through the darkness. The contrast is strong–the poverty of the Christ Child and the world He came to save. Or if your contemplation leads you that way, you might imagine these lighted towers shining through the night to be a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem which the infant has recently left and toward which H will lead us all.

When first completed, this crib was found to be so large that the first two pews on the left side of St. Francis Chapel had to be removed each year and the front door closed to accommodate it. Then it was moved to the landing outside the same chapel at the foot of the farther stairway. Sister Davidica Beschta painted a backdrop of the midnight sky and and the stairway was closed off. It made a most beautiful setting! Now, of course, it has followed our Community Christmas celebration into St. Mary’s Chapel. Something would be wanting if this crib, so dear to all of us, were not there to tell the story it has told for so many years to so many Sisters. Some say it was reduced in size when moved there, but I am sure is just the way I remember it when it stood in St. Francis Chapel during our Novitiate.

Our crib is unique! No one else has one like it-a bit of the folk-art of Europe transplanted in America.

The man who carved this crib was John Climicus Falbissoner. He also carved the altar in our St. Francis Chapel, the brackets on which the statues stand and the main stairway in the front lobby.

Note: look for angels holding real-looking human hearts hanging around the cave portion of the cave. With our charism being that of education and health care, these antique figurines are a rare delight!

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