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After three years of restoration, a rare and remarkable eighteenth century Neapolitan Creche housed in a rustic barn returns to public view December 8 at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut.  It will be open to the public free every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A team of curators, designers and conservators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York oversaw the conservation and restoration project in Bethlehem.  The Nativity scene of 68 figures between 14 and 16 inches high, dressed in their original eighteenth century costumes, is similar to the Creche that is the centerpiece of the annual Metropolitan Museum Christmas tableau.  Both scenes were gifts from the same donor, Loretta Hines Howard.    

The finely detailed figures, whose heads, hands and legs are made of carved wood, terra cotta, jute and porcelain, are situated in a small village constructed primarily of the bark of cork trees.  In addition to the Holy family, the group includes worshippers old and young, merchants, peddlers, a princess and her whippet dog, the Three Kings, and peasants with their farm animals. 

The display, some 16 feet long and six feet deep, is housed on the Abbey grounds in the Bellamy Barn, which also dates from the eighteenth century.  The barn has been fully restored, including the construction of a new, climate-controlled display area.

The Abbey of Regina Laudis, a contemplative female Benedictine monastery located on a 400-acre farm, was founded in 1947.  Dedicated to the praise of God through prayer and work, the 40 nuns of the Abbey chant the Mass and full Divine office daily, keeping the prayer of the psalms resonating through the day and night, every day of the year.  They have chosen to sing the Mass and full Divine Office in Latin and to retain the Gregorian Chant. The public is welcome to share in the celebration of Mass and Vespers.

The Monastic Art Shop, located near the main entrance to the grounds, sells crafts, food projects and gifts, most made at the Abbey.  The selection usually includes pottery, candles, woven and knitted goods, wool from the farm sheep, granola, iron work hand-forged at the Abbey blacksmith shop, cheese, honey, vinegar, herbs for seasonings, hot mustard, perfumes and skin creams, as well as cards, books, medals and other religious art objects and recordings of the Gregorian Chant sung by the monastic choir.

The Abbey is located at 273 Flanders Road, off Route 6 or Route 61 in Bethlehem, in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. Driving directions are available at the web site

For more information on the Abbey and other Litchfield Hills holiday happenings and a free copy of UNWIND, a 112-page color guide to lodging, dining and all the attractions in the area contact the Northwest Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, or visit their web site at

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