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Paradise lost, paradise found

Paradise lost, paradise found

Cara Gfroerer '24 December 11, 2023

Marking the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’ first Nativity scene, the Marian Library is inviting the University of Dayton campus community to view its annual Christmas Nativity exhibit, this year titled “Nativities and the Natural World.”  

Decorative Nativity scene.
“Paradise Lost?” was created by artist Sidney Matias.

The Marian Library is home to the world’s largest collection of printed materials on the mother of Christ and has hosted the exhibit since 1994.

“The Marian Library is a place for scholarship and devotion supported by a wide range of materials related to Mary,” said Bridget Retzloff, the visual resources librarian. 

The “Nativities and the Natural World” exhibit this year includes a particularly eye-catching scene with evident themes of Pope Francis’s very own Laudato Si and Laudato Duem, his recent encyclicals on climate change and the environment.

The Nativity set depicts an Eden-like setting on one side, representative of an indigenous culture. Glazed clay figures depicting Mary and Jesus lay in a hammock surrounded by beautiful trees, a diverse array of animals, bright tropical birds and plants. 

What makes this Nativity scene different from the others is multi-dimensional elements, Retzloff said.

“It’s viewed best from all angles.”

On the opposite side of the set, a businessman is shown lurking in the background surrounded by the devastation of a forest. It’s a stark contrast from the utopia depicted at the front of the set. The man is on his cell phone, wearing sunglasses with dollar signs on them and his head is adorned with devil horns, making it clear that he represents the impact of man’s greed and consumerism on the environment.  

“It’s so beautiful from the front and then once you get to the back you think, ‘oh wow.’ It makes you think a lot about the environment, ecology and how we’re caring for God’s creation,” Retzloff said.

Decorative Nativity scene in the Marian Library.
The exhibit runs until Jan. 12, 2024.

Titled “Paradise Lost?,” this Nativity was created by Marianst Brazilian lay artist Sidney Matias. He has a long history at UD; a large number of his paintings are in the Marian Library and other buildings across campus. Matias created the set in 2009, and it joined the exhibit that same year. Since then it has been featured 13 times. 

Laudato Si and Ladato Duem inspired this year's theme for the Christmas Nativity exhibit and this particular set encapsulates the theme of Marianst values and their interconnection with the environment. 

“St. Francis was a great lover of nature: he inspired Pope Francis’s ecological and environmental writings,” Retzloff said. “The library tied that into the Nativity exhibit this year.”  

A collection of over 36,000 Nativity sets, each one this year includes a unique plant or animal from around the world or it is created out of a natural material. Some of the sets are made of wood, fiber or clay. Others include more unique materials such as giant fennel bark or geodes.

“I think that’s exciting, to see things from around the world pulled together by the theme …”

“I think that’s exciting, to see things from around the world pulled together by the theme …” Retzloff said. “[It ties] into Marianst ideals about caring for each other and for the earth.”

The entire exhibit of Nativity sets is available until Jan. 12. However, on the seventh floor of the Crèche Museum gallery, there is always a selection of the Nativity sets on display year round.


Photographs by Jayonna Johnson '25

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