Year 2 - n.2 - April 2002
Text and photos by web issue www.diorama.ch


The largest crib in the world

The Christmas story - from the announcement to the shepherds, the scene of the birth of Christ and the arrival of the three kings till the flight into Egypt - illustrated with over 450 wood-carved figures wearing oriental costumes in a realistic reproduction of the environs of Bethlehem.


Diorama Bethlehem Einsiedeln

The Christmas crib at the Diorama Bethlehem is built in a half-circle and comprises over 450 figures, 80 m² of plastic landscape and a painted background measuring more than 30 m. What the viewer sees is not just a fantasy-landscape but a realistic reproduction of the environs of Bethlehem; the seamless transition from the plastic landscape to the painted background creates the perfect illusion of an endless scenery.

The scenery starts on the left side with the shepherd's field where the angel awaken the shepherds and announce the birth of Christ. In the far distant one perceives the desert of Juda and the moabit mountains.


zoom on the image

The following camp of the shepherds at the outskirts of Bethlehem shows scenes of the daily life of the nomads: men taking care of the animals and women grinding the grain in stone hand-mills.

  zoom on the image

The town of Bethlehem lies upon two neighbouring hills on the slopes of which are caves used by the shepherds as emergency shelters. In one of these caves Joseph and Marie found shelter too. According to the legend the tower of David, seen as a ruined castle, stands over the cave o Christ's birth. In front of the cave the first shepherds have arrived and pay homage to the new-born Christ.

zoom on the image

On the right side of Bethlehem one sees the arrival of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar the Moor riding a white horse. The three kings are adorned with the riches of the orient: silken flags fly in the wind, a body-servant carries a parasol, on the elephant a throne is built, a dromedary carries the women under a sun-tent.

zoom on the image

The caravan is about to camp: camels are unloaded, the servants unpack rich presents, a water-carrier brings water for the animals. In the shade of a few slender palms the women turn the winch of the dipping wheel that waters the fields where a farmer ploughs his land with a wooden hook-plough. The mighty Frankenberg dominates the horizon.

zoom on the image

The scenery ends on the right side with a small clear lake at the foot of a mountainous country. Mary and Joseph are seen fleeing into Egypt on a narrow mountain path. At the shore of the lake some of Herod's soldiers search the landscape for the wanted child.


zoom on the image


 Diorama Bethlehem History

In the early 1930's Ferdinand Pottmesser, a crib maker from South Tyrol, built a giant Christmas crib with hundreds of figures which he exhibited in South Tyrol, Tyrol and Upper Italy with great success. In 1953 he sold the figures to Einsiedeln.Taking the Pöttmesser figures as the starting point Dr William Doderlein, curator of the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, created the concept of the Christmas crib for the Diorama Bethlehem. The plastic landscape was created by the sculptor Reinhold Zellner of Munich. The background which measures more than 30 m was painted by Bartholomew Wappmannsberger of Prien/Chiemsee.Great stress was put on creating an exact copy of the environs of Bethlehem and to represent the birth of Christ according to biblical tradition. Thanks to the professional skills of the artist involved and their excellent co-operation this goal was achieved in a impressive way. The inauguration of the Diorama Bethlehem took place in 1954.The map of Judaea on the front of the building was painted in 1958 by Bartholomew Wappmannsberger.

The Diorama Bethlehem was founded as a commercial business in 1953 by Karl Eberle together with his brothers Adelrich and Joseph and his brother-in-law Karl Birchler under the name of "Neues Diorama Bethlehem Ltd".Today the Diorama Bethlehem is run as a non-profit-organisation. It is, however, financially independent and receives no public funds. Since 1973 all shares are in the possession of Dr. Adelrich Eberle.

We thanks the Management of the Diorama Bethlehem Einsiedel for the authorization to publish the photos and the description of the Crib.