Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square gets 720-ton sand nativity scene

An artist works on a sand sculpture representing part of nativity scene in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The traditional nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square won’t be so traditional this year. For the first time, it is made of sand – 720 tons of it.

For the past two weeks, Rich Varano, a professional sand artist, has been guiding three sculptors from the Netherlands, Russia and the Czech Republic, to craft the work, which measures about 5.5 meters high by 16 meters wide (18 feet high by 52 feet wide).

An artist works on a sand sculpture representing baby Jesus as a part of nativity scene in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

An artist works on a sand sculpture representing baby Jesus as a part of nativity scene in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Varano, 60, the artistic director of the massive work, doesn’t mind if you call him “Mr. Sandman”. Sand is his life and love. The American from Florida divides his time between the United States and Italy.

“It’s very special to be making one here in a place with so much history, so much culture, so much art and in the shadow of such masters,” he told Reuters on Thursday as his team worked quietly to finish ahead of Friday’s unveiling to the public.

“It is an incredibly humbling experience to be here,” he said.

Heavy trucks brought the sand, of a type particularly suited for sculpting, from the northern Italian seaside city of Jesolo, near Venice, in mid-November.

It was compacted into a large rectangle and the artists started sculpting away from the top down with tools including sticks, trowels, and even dental utensils for the finer parts.

“What separates us professionals and the average person playing on the beach is that we understand how to make sand stick together well,” the white-bearded Varano said, wearing a yellow hard hat.

The scene consists of Joseph, Mary, the infant Jesus, angels, shepherds, animals and the three wise men, kings the Bible says followed a star in the east that led them to Bethlehem.

Varano said beach sand is not suitable, partly because it is not very compactable. The sand is taken from more inland areas and is similar to river sand.

A large overhead canopy will protect the scene from any heavy rain and plastic curtains will be lowered in case of storms or strong winds before it is dismantled in January.

“It’s an ephemeral art in the sense that it is not intended to last forever,” he said, “even though we could make it last indefinitely if we wanted to”.

Varano said he expected some criticism from conservatives who think nativity scenes should be made up of traditional statues.

“I would not be surprised if there were some people who had concerns, but there are so many more who will enjoy it and that makes me happy,” he said.

Once the Christmas season is over, it will be returned there and used for other sand sculptures.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Baby Jesus Replaced With Pig’s Head

A Massachusetts church was in shock Christmas Day to find that someone had stolen the baby Jesus from their nativity scene and replaced it with the severed head of a pig.

Police say that the vandals struck the nativity scene outside Scared Hearts Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts during the early morning hours of Christmas.

Police are investigating the incident on what they called a “busy, well lit street.”

Brenda Burns, a resident of Haverhill, took the baby Jesus from her family’s nativity scene and went to the church to replace the stolen one.

In addition to the stolen Jesus in Haverhill, a second Jesus was stolen in nearby Greenfield.  That baby Jesus was imported from Italy and worth over $3,000.  The thieves also caused significant damage to the manger in the display.

Anti-Christianists Force Nativity Scene To Be Moved

A group of anti-Christianists have forced the removal of a nativity scene that had been placed in front of a North Carolina courthouse for over 40 years.

The virulent anti-Christian organization Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is not located in Dallas, North Carolina, complained that because the nativity was on government property the town owned it.

The nativity scene was moved to a local auto shop amid complaints from residents that the out of town anti-Christianists shouldn’t be forcing the community to go against their values and standards.

The Christian-hating organization also complained about a nativity scene in Jay, Florida.  The city declared it “surplus property” and sold it so a private group could display it.

“The majority of the folks have been very supportive in understanding that there is a reason we moved it from City Hall to downtown. Actually, now that it’s downtown, it is more visible to the public than it was right here at city hall,” Jay Mayor Kurvin Qualls said, according to WEAR-TV.

The city estimated the costs to fight the anti-Christian group in court would be around $100,000.