National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Christmas Voices
Issue Date:  December 19, 2003

On Our Cover

In spite of its emergence in the Middle Ages, the Nativity set did not become part of popular culture until the 17th and 18th centuries. Over the centuries, figures were added and new stories interwoven with that of the birth of Christ. Their message is that Christ is born for all of us, at any given time, no matter color or culture.

The Nativity scene on the cover of this issue was taken from the collection at the University of Dayton’s Marian Library. Titled “Spectacle for the Many,” it was created by an unknown Peruvian artist. This bas relief of a three-story house is of typical Andino provenance. Looking like a mixture of Stratford-on-Avon and fancy apartment house, it has two ornate balconies overflowing with spectators. Their rounded heads and merry hats are glued to the railing in an effort to see what is happening on the landing at the entrance of the house. The figures surrounding the Christ child -- his parents and the wise men -- each hold a hand to their face in utter amazement of the spectacle which only the eyes of the heart can see.

The Marian Library at the University of Dayton houses a collection of nearly 1,000 Nativity scenes or crèches, as they are called. The library’s collection represents nearly 45 countries and includes styles and settings as diverse as the heritage, vision and interpretation of the artists who created them. Many pieces can be viewed online at

Cover photo by Larry Burgess, University of Dayton

Poetry by Patrick Marrin

We have seen a great light.
-- Isaiah 9:1

A splendid star breaches
the mountain range,
a burst of glory fills
the cold, dark valley.
Deep purple hues of
sadness retreat before
a majestic, advancing light,
golden gladness.

All the people, rich and poor,
don their finest hats
to greet this awesome visitation,
like children again,
whose broad smiles
and laughing eyes cry out,
"You really love us, don't you?"
"You have come!"

Wise men huddle,
woolen chullos cover
their ears; they hold their faces
in utter, troubled surprise.
Peasant couple, rolled ponchos
slung over weary shoulders,
looks upward
as heaven comes to earth.

We, you and I, who view
this simple scene from afar,
need two kissing doves
and a pair of smiling llamas
to draw our hearts to the
tiny child below, whose fiery
Gaze now claims us;
God is grounded here forever.

National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 2003
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