Like every year a nativity scene is erected at the foot of the imposing Christmas tree in the Vatican’s  St. Peter’s Square, but this year it is a very special one. For the first time it has been sculpted completely out of sand, and to make it possible 700 tons of the material were brought to the Vatican last month from Jesolo, a resort town near Venice.

The nativity, which will be blessed by the pope on December 31, covers an area of about 25 square meters and consists of a bas-relief of 16 meters in length, 5 in height and 6 in depth. In order to create it, three sand artists from Russia, Holland, and the Czech Republic, worked on site for weeks under the direction of Rich Varano, an American professional sand artist. The work took place behind a large screen to prevent people from seeing the scene before it was finished and it will remain there until January 7, after which the sand will be returned to where it came from. A canopy covers the whole area to protect the sculpture from the rain and plastic curtains will be used in case of bad winds and storms.

Although Varano spends a great part of his time working in Italy, he had never been to Rome or the Vatican and he said: “It is a spectacularly wonderful experience, nothing like I could have ever done in 30 years of business, to be here surrounded by such a rich culture, history, and the art from the masters.  It’s a very humbling and emotional experience.”

Ilona Catani Scarlett


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