Religion & Liberty Online

Italian nativity scene adds holiday sparkle to downtown Grand Rapids

Special window display at the Acton Building

For the holiday season this year, the Acton Institute has a very special window display facing Veteran’s Park and Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids. The window display, “Wise men still seek Him” features a rare nativity set, Cathedral glass-inspired paint, and more. Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, inspired the work, wanting to create a proper display for his personal precepio (extended nativity scene).

It’s said that in 1223, St. Francis of Assisi invented the first nativity scene, bringing together a living reenactment of the birth of Christ. Since then, these simple or ornate sets have graced the homes of many families throughout the world in all lands.

Centerpiece of the nativity

The particular precepio on display at the Acton Building is made up of 171 individual pieces. The figures are hand made from terra cotta with stiffened fabric (for the clothing) made in Naples. It depicts people from every walk of life going about the usual day-to-day chores that would have occurred on the day Christ was born. The Holy Family figures, the central focus of the scene, were fashioned by a renowned Sicilian artist. The entire set, which includes a number of moving figures and fountains, was personally collected by Rev. Robert Sirico over several years and brought back from Italy to the United States.

Special thanks to the following, whose hard work made this display come to life:

  • Artwork and Design by: Tracy Knoth. A local artist, her work in the greater Grand Rapids area spans commercial illustration and graphic design, set and stage design, as well as floral, event design, and production.
  • Lighting by: Marc VanderMaas – A/V Manager and Robbie Doyle – Facility Technician, the Acton Institute
  • Carpentry by: Mike Tervoort, Custom Homes
  • Designed and Curated by: Karen Abbs, Director, HR & Administration for Acton Institute