An annual tradition:
the nativity scene in St. Louis

Nativity scene at the Theresa Center Chapel in St. Louis.Anyone who has visited Sancta Maria in Ripa in St. Louis at Christmastime is familiar with the beautiful nativity scene displayed in the chapel. However, few are familiar with its origins in coming to the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The Christmas crib, or nativity scene, was sculpted under the direction of Sebastian Osterrieder, the only sculptor of religious objects in south Germany in the early 1900s. It is one of four such cribs in the United States, with the others residing in Belleville and Ruma in Illinois, and Donaldson, Indiana.

To obtain the realistic feel, Osterreider spent seven years in the Holy Land studying people, animals and land to make the figures more accurate and well-represented. He crafted the heads and hands of the figures from gypsum, an easily carved mineral commonly found in plaster. The figures were laminated in glue to preserve them for years to come.

The nativity scene came to the chapel at Ripa through Father Joseph Schlarmann, the administrator and pastor of St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville, Illinois. School Sisters of Notre Dame had taught at the cathedral parish school since 1859, and as a gift for their service, Father Schlarmann ordered the crib set from his friend, Osterreider, to be delivered to the motherhouse in St. Louis in the late 1920s. The set contains more than 20 statues: angels, shepherds, sheep, kings, camels and the infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph.

This crib has been at the Ripa campus for nearly 100 years, and for sisters and visitors alike, it has become a yearly tradition to view and pray before the scene.

-Information courtesy of SSND Archives.

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