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Nativity scene a century late

An Erie church placed an order. World War I intervened. Now a similar one is in place.

ERIE - Stymied by war and delayed for nearly a century, a German Nativity scene arrived at a Pennsylvania church in time for Christmas.

The last of the hand-carved, gold-leaf pieces arrived this month at St. Joseph Catholic Church, finally giving the parish the Christmas scene it had hoped for when it put in its order in the early 1900s.

"It's really striking," said the pastor, the Rev. Larry Richards. "I wanted it to be really inspiring for Christmas."

The parish placed an order for a Nativity scene from Germany early last century, but after fighting broke out in World War I, the scene never arrived. Eventually, the order was forgotten.

While doing research for the church's 150th anniversary, Richards told the Erie Times-News that he discovered a reference to the scene in a 1917 book about the church. It was then that he decided to search for a replacement during a trip to Germany.

In July, Richards found what he was looking for in Oberammergau: a beautifully carved, 51-piece Nativity set similar to the one his church ordered decades earlier.

The set includes the traditional Nativity figures of the baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The three kings and angels are there too, along with animals including camels and donkeys. The scene also has two women, one holding a cat and the other with a child on her back, which Richards said is unusual.

"It's beautiful, but it was very expensive," he said.

The pieces ranged in cost from $300 to $2,900. But it took just two weeks for the parish to raise the money and put in the order. This time, it was filled.

The baby Jesus figure was to be put in its rightful place on Friday night. The display will remain in place through Jan. 9.