Nativity sets to be displayed at St. Hyacinth’s Church in Westbrook Dec. 10-11 range from modern and avant-garde, like the one above, to classic and detailed. Contributed / Paul Concannon

St. Hyacinths Church in Westbrook will display nearly 100 large and “unusual” Nativity scenes from around the world this weekend.

The church’s former pastor, Father Reginald Brissette collected the creches over the span of about 60 years during his travels across Europe, parts of Asia and the Americas. The collection will be displayed for the first time at the Brown Street church this weekend, with many of the sets for sale to benefit the church.

Otherwise, the 97 creches would be “in a box in a room where people couldn’t enjoy them,” said Paul Concannon, a co-organizer of the event.

The collection ranges from abstract creches to traditional, detailed pieces.

“Personally, I like the more realistic models, but some get really abstract,” said Paul Concannon, a co-organizer of the event.

This angels’ “halos” in this Nativity set from the 1960s-1970s have a medieval touch. Contributed / Paul Concannon

One of Concannon’s favorites is reminiscent of the 1960s-1970s but with a seraphim-style twist, he said. Rather than the more common ringed halos, the angels have small spikes of light radiating from their heads harkening back to medieval art.  

Another of his favorites is from India with simple carving with bright colors that looks similar to that nation’s folk art.

The Nativity scenes, typically depicting Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the three Wise Men, barn animals and a shepherd or two, represent a diversity of backgrounds.

“Whoever the artist was that sculpted or molded them, it’s their rendition and usually has to do with their heritage,” Concannon said.

Many will be nostalgic for viewers too, perhaps matching sets that were displayed during Christmases at their childhood homes, he said.

“That’s the beauty, it’s a variety of materials, a great variety of characterizations, and there is definitely variety in what is included,” Concannon said.  “Some of these are unusual and won’t necessarily bring nostalgia out, but they’ll get an immediate reaction.”

The first nativity scene was created live in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi in France with actors and animals, according to US Catholic magazine. Eventually, small, inanimate creches for homes became common across Europe and then elsewhere.

Creches are important to this day in helping Christians remember what Christmas is about, according to Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Communications Director Dave Guthro.

“The image of the Nativity helps Christians prepare to welcome Christmas and to live in the story it symbolizes: that Jesus, in coming into the world and our lives, is always with us and we are called to share the love and mercy we have received with those around us,” Guthro said. “The Nativity provides an inspired image of how every Christian should live out the joyful message of Christmas.”

The sets will be laid out throughout the rooms of the church from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11. Brissette, who was unavailable for an interview with the American Journal, will be in attendance to explain the pieces’ specific backgrounds.

Not all of the creches will be sold; several will be kept for annual church displays, Concannon said. Others will have set prices ranging from possibly $10 dollars, he said, to sets upward of $100, and some will be auctioned. 

The sale comes in part because Brissette is getting older, Concannon said, and can’t take “all of the sets to heaven.”

This marble Nativity set is among the more detailed in the Rev. Reginald Brissette’s collection. Contributed / Paul Concannon

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