Installation of St Mary's Cathedral's Outdoor Nativity Begins

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
20 Nov 2014

The outdoor Nativity in Cathedral Square will be blessed on Sunday 30 November by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

The installation of Sydney's outdoor Nativity in front of St Mary's Cathedral has begun in preparation for the start of Advent on Sunday, 30 November.

The Blessing of the outdoor Nativity which takes place the first Sunday of Advent after the 10.30 am Solemn Choral Mass at St Mary's Cathedral has become a much loved and anticipated Sydney tradition. Each year more than 3000 families and individuals gather in the forecourt for the Blessing which begins with a group of children dressed as angels leading the St Mary's Cathedral Choir down the steps into Cathedral Square, and across to the Nativity.

This year, for the first time, the Blessing will be celebrated by Archdiocese of Sydney's newly-installed Archbishop, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP .

Installing the Cathedral's outdoor Nativity, however, is no small operation and takes a full two weeks.

First scaffolding has to be erected. This is followed by the construction of the base, before the large enclosed manger with its straw roof and large supporting beams that must be bolted together, can be installed. Next comes the hanging of the large hand-painted three-panel backdrop. Once this is in place, the Cathedral's superbly crafted life-size resin figures of the Holy Mother, Joseph, the Christ child, the Angel Gabriel, the three Kings, shepherds and various livestock are carefully transported from storage below the Cathedral car park along College Street to Cathedral Square.

Installing the Outdoor Nativity in Cathedral Square is no easy task

Then come the electricals and rigging of the new state-of-the-art light system donated by Damian Fogarty, Director of LED Safe which was seen for the first time last year and enables  Sydneysiders to enjoy in the Nativity in the evening as well as during the day.

The finishing touch to the installation is the erection of the purpose-built timber fence which was constructed by students at the Southern Cross Vocational College at Burwood in 2011.

Despite having two members of the Archdiocese's property team working full time on the installation, with a third brought in on the days when heavy lifting is heeded, setting up the outdoor Installation frequently ends up as a race against time.

"This was certainly the case last year," says Dieter Koch, Property Officer for the Archdiocese of Sydney recalling the wild weather and fierce storms that brought all work on the installation to a complete halt for more than 48 hours.

During last year's storms the installation of the Outdoor Nativity became a race against the clock

"We had to battle rain and unsettled weather in 2012 as well. But luckily this year the weather is perfect with clear skies forecast all next week," he says and expects the installation to be completed by Friday morning, 28 November, well in time for the start of Advent and the Blessing of the Outdoor Nativity by Archbishop Anthony on 30 November.

Although outdoor Nativities are a feature of several European cities, they are rare Down Under and the one currently being installed is believed to be an Australian first.

An initiative of the former Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, the outdoor Nativity made its debut in Cathedral Square in 2005. Now in its 10th year, the Cathedral's Nativity not only marks the start of Advent, but for non-Catholics has become part of locals as well as tourists and visitor's to the city's "must see" list.

The life-size resin figures were designed and created by a team of painters, craftsmen, artisans and carpenters by Italy's renowned Demetz Art Studio, which has been creating ecclesiastical art since the 16th Century.

Children dressed as Christmas angels joined the life-size Nativity figures at last year's Blessing of the Outdoor Nativity

Resin was chosen for the hand painted representations rather than wood to better withstand Sydney's temperature and climate extremes.

If everything goes to plan the figures will be installed in the Nativity next Monday, November 24 when they will be taken by truck along College Street to Cathedral Square.

"There are always surprised faces when the truck has to stop at the lights. That's when people do a double take and pull out their smart phones to take pictures," he says, recalling some of the expressions on the faces of pedestrians when the truck drew to a halt last year and they spotted a life size large cow and donkey in the tray of the truck and the Angel Gabriel complete with wings riding beside the driver in the cab.

A little more than a week after the Blessing of the Nativity, Cathedral Square will also see the first night of the spectacular Lights of Christmas. This annual event, from 8.30pm to midnight every night from Tuesday 9th December up to and including Christmas night is a laser and audio projection on the facade of St Mary's Cathedral. It attracts thousands of people every night but especially young families whose children love to spend time at the Nativity before settling down to watch the amazing light display - which always has something special for the little ones.

At night thanks to state of the art lighting the Outdoor Nativity is equally spectacular