The Basilica-Cathedral Museum in the Episcopal Library

Away in a Manger – Exhibit of Nativity Sets

The Episcopal Library
PHOTOGRAPH BY Lucy Alway

Sitting in the shadows of the beautiful Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, overlooking the Narrows of St. John’s Harbour, the Archbishop’s Palace is home to the Basilica-Cathedral Museum. The museum is located in the Episcopal Library which was the creation of Bishop John T. Mullock in the late 1850s as an educational resource for priests and a public reading room. The library contains a diverse collection of rare books, the oldest dating to 1524, reflecting the Bishop’s wide-ranging interest in scripture, theology, literature, history, astronomy and geology. This space, once called “the finest room in the Colony” is beautiful to behold, with its large bookcases, stunning plaster ceiling and restored stain glass windows.

During the Advent Season the library hosts the annual exhibit Away in a Manger, a display of over 140 nativity sets from 25 countries. This exhibit, started by then archivist Larry Dohey and the volunteer committee over 15 years ago, has grown to become a Christmas tradition. The beauty of these sets is breathtaking, from the very largest works of local art to the very smallest matchbox set from Peru. Each set has a story, told by knowledgeable museum volunteers, from the colourful Peruvian nativity retablo that was once owned by David Suzuki, to the small sets donated annually in memory of loved ones.

Peruvian nativity retablo
PHOTOGRAPH BY Lucy Alway

This exhibit is about more than just a collection of fascinating sets in a beautiful space. It is about the warm welcome you receive when you enter. It is about the decorated tree where presents are left for those in need. And it is about small kindnesses. When I was there the Executive Director of the Foundation offered his seat to an older lady so that she could rest a spell before viewing the exhibit.

Locally made nativity set
PHOTOGRAPH BY Lucy Alway

At this busy time of year, when the holidays can be a stressful and lonely time for many, I would recommend visiting this space and resting a spell.

Away in a Manger can be viewed until early January, and admission is by donation. The museum opens in June for the summer season and includes displays of the Sacred Vessels and Treasures of the Basilica.

For information on opening hours visit the website of The Basilica Heritage Foundation: www.basilicaheritagefoundation.ca

Larry Dohey, archivist, historian, storyteller, passed away suddenly in August 2019. He is deeply missed by so many.

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Lucy Alway