Ever imagine what it might have been like to experience the birth of Jesus Christ? Or take a walk through the streets of Bethlehem during Biblical times?
The First United Methodist Church in Lancaster spent nearly 20 years perfecting an immersive walk-through, indoor nativity scene at the Crossroads Ministry Center complete with the sites, sounds, and even smells of Bethlehem and the first Christmas.
“I believe that it is the largest collection of 50-inch Fontanini (figurines) in Ohio and possibly the country,” said Nativity organizer John Coen. It took the church years to build up the collection starting with the baby Jesus in 2001. Since then it’s grown to 24 nearly life-size Fontanini figures situated amongst beautiful scenery, which was all crafted by church members.
Most people know Fontanini as the iconic tabletop Christmas nativity scene, complete with a wooden stable and covered with moss. They’re often family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, and the 50-inch size is recognizable in the 1990 hit movie “Home Alone” when Kevin McCallister hides out from the bad guys by blending into the nativity scene.
Fontanini figures are made in a Tuscan village in Italy as they have been for more than 110 years. Each piece, whether it’s tabletop, 50-inch or life size, is hand painted. Each painter specializes in a special component, like the hair, robe or face. As one painter completes his or her work, it’s passed on to the next artist until it’s complete. New pieces or designs can take up to two years to finish.
The craftsmanship alone makes the trip to Crossroads worth the visit.
The indoor display is open evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in December for visitors to get the full nighttime effect. The figures are beautifully lit with stars in the sky and the sounds of animals and a fountain filling the space. Visitors also experience various aromas as they walk through Bethlehem, ending with the aroma of Frankincense near the manger scene, as it is one of the gifts of the three Wise Men who saw the star and traveled to meet Jesus.
Each year the church adds to or changes the display to keep it interesting for those that visit the nativity year after year. Coen said some travel hours to experience the display, which has been known to bring some to tears and leave others stunned by its beauty.
All are welcome to visit the free event. For more information, visit the nativity’s Facebook page. The Lancaster First United Methodist Church’s Crossroads Ministry Center is located at 2095 West Fair Avenue.