A new Nativity scene for Edinburgh

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising reports on the new Edinburgh Nativity Scene which was sculpted by Thomas Hildenbrand in Germany.

Over the past two years, a new life-sized nativity scene for the Christmas market in Edinburgh has been created with the assistance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

The beautifully crafted figures of the Holy Family were made by Thomas Hildenbrand.

This significant challenge was successfully tackled by the participating churches in the context of the Munich-Edinburgh city partnership, in collaboration with nativity scene builder Thomas Hildenbrand.

It all began with a letter addressed to Cardinal Reinhard Marx over two years ago.

The sender was Archbishop Leo Cushley of the Scottish Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

The idea was: Let's turn to Munich, the partner city of Edinburgh, because nativity scenes are part of the tradition there.

In the letter, the bishop sought help for a special project that the Catholic Archdiocese, along with the Reformed Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the city of Edinburgh, wanted to undertake: the creation of a new life-sized nativity scene to take a prominent place at the Edinburgh Christmas market.

Archbishop Cushley believed that with the assistance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, the desired nativity scene could be obtained, considering the special tradition of nativity scene craftsmanship in the region, as explained by Ordinariate Councilor Armin Wouters, who coordinated the nativity project on behalf of Cardinal Marx.

"The idea was: Let's turn to Munich, the partner city of Edinburgh, because nativity scenes are part of the tradition there."

Archbishop Cushley (third from right) with representatives from various churches following the blessing of the Nativity scene.

Building the nativity scene, embodying Upper Bavarian tradition, would also symbolize an important gesture for the partnership between the two cities, which would celebrate its 70th anniversary the following year, making it Munich's oldest city partnership.

Christoph Kürzeder, the director of the Freising Diocesan Museum and an expert in nativity art, took on the task of finding a suitable nativity representation, as Wouters recounts.

Since life-sized nativity scenes are not standard items that can be easily purchased, Kürzeder sought out an artist who could build a nativity scene in the desired format.

The choice ultimately fell on wood sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand from Ilshofen near Schwäbisch Hall, who was initially commissioned with a design.

In creating the nativity scene for Edinburgh, Hildenbrand drew inspiration from a small Gothic relief by Erasmus Grasser in the Diocesan Museum.

"I tried to incorporate the basic elements from this relief into the new nativity scene, such as the garments that almost completely envelop Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, or the fortress in the background, which is also iconic in Edinburgh," explains Hildenbrand.

From left: Thomas Hildenbrand, Sir Tom Farmer, a major supporter of the Nativity scene in Edinburgh, and Archbishop Leo Cushley.

He also aimed to establish a connection to Great Britain by studying the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of 19th-century painters in which nativity scenes played a significant role. On the other hand, Saint Joseph became a timeless, modern figure, "with him, as a craftsman, I could build a very emotional connection."

This tension between tradition and modernity characterizes Hildenbrand's nativity artwork for Edinburgh.

"At first, I was concerned it would be too traditional," the sculptor reveals. However, he later realized that the fundamental message of the Christmas story is timeless and must be reflected in the representation.

The Nativity scene on The Mound.

"That's why I hope my work resonates with people as it did 500 years ago when Grasser created this work, which served as our inspiration."

After coordinating various designs with representatives from the city and churches in Edinburgh, Hildenbrand began his work this spring.

By September, the new wooden nativity scene for Edinburgh was ready for pickup outside his studio. The final version features the Holy Family in the foreground of a case shaped like a barrel vault, equipped with a perspective wooden interior.

In the background, a large landscape relief dominates, crowned by the Edinburgh Castle.

The nativity scene was financed half by private donors, and the other half was covered proportionally by the city of Munich, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, as well as the Reformed Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The city of Edinburgh covered the transportation costs for the life-sized wooden figures.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the nativity scene was blessed by Archbishop Cushley and presented to the public at the city's Christmas market, in the presence of nativity scene builder Thomas Hildenbrand and a delegation from the city of Munich.

Ordinariate Councilor Armin Wouters expressed satisfaction after the nativity scene presentation in Edinburgh.

Firstly, the nativity scene project represents "a noteworthy ecumenical symbol." The fact that this symbol for public space is derived from the "typically Catholic motif of the nativity scene," despite the Catholic Church being a minority in Scotland, is remarkable.

"The significance of the nativity action for the city partnership between Munich and Edinburgh should not be underestimated.

Wouters emphasizes that the nativity scene for the Scottish capital has helped renew relationships despite secular reservations towards religious symbols.

"Even non-Christians should be able to agree that the birth of Jesus shows that humanity is important to God without reservation, has dignity, and deserves respect. And these are elements of a society that we need more than ever today."

Text: Paul Hasel, Editor at Sankt Michaelsbund, December 2023. Original article published on the website of the Archdiocese of Munich & Freising

WATCH: Edinburgh Nativity scene blessing

Archbishop Cushley blessed Edinburgh's new Nativity scene at The Mound on Sunday.

The blessing was part of the city's Advent Carol Concert which began at the Ross Bandstand in West Princes Street Gardens.

The nativity scene is by sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand from Munich and is a partnership between Edinburgh and Munich (twin cities).

Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of  Munich and Freising, wrote to Archbishop Cushley, saying: "I would like to thank Archbishop Cushley for the initiative behind the Nativity scene, which ahs led him to Munich, the tin city of Edinburgh.

"I thanks the Christian Churches involved, as well as the private donors, for this sign of togetherness." Read the full letter here.

Archbishop Cushley said: "We hope the Nativity will be welcomed, but more than that, we hope it will be recognised as a gesture from the people of one European city to another.

"The birth of Jesus was greeted by angels singing 'Peace on earth and goodwill to all!'.  As we look forward to Christmas, we can pray and work for that peace to be real in the world again."

Praise for Munich and Edinburgh Nativity collaboration

The Archbishop of Munich and Freising has praised a collaboration between Edinburgh and Munich that resulted in a stunning new Nativity scene.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx wrote the below letter to Archbishop Cushley and the people of Edinburgh.


Dear Archbishop, Ladies & Gentlemen,

I am delighted that a Nativity scene can be presented to the public in Edinburgh, which expresses the connection and the communion between humans in a wide variety of ways.

In Bavaria, there are nativity scenes in many places at this time of the year.

They can be seen at the Munich Christmas Market, in churches and homes, but also in many shops and businesses.

The Nativity scene, that can be viewed on The Mound in Edinburgh.

The depiction of the nativity scenes often transfers the events from Bethlehem to our Bavarian landscape.

Thus, we are reminded that Jesus not only came into the world in far-off Bethlehem, but He also wanted and wants to come into the world with us at home in Bavaria too.

And now, it's also the same with this nativity scene depiction, where the birth of Jesus is transferred to Edinburgh.

He does not wish to overwhelm us with power and pomp, but instead invites us to turn to him lovingly.

This presentation of His birth is also intended to inspire us and encourage a life of community and respect.

Christians recognise the incarnation of God in the nativity scene: in this way, God shows us that humans are infinitely important to Him, including every single human being. God comes to us in humble circumstances and born as a child.

He does not wish to overwhelm us with power and pomp, but instead invites us to turn to him lovingly.

Beautiful sculpting by Thomas Hildenbrand created this wonderful depiction of Our Lady.

Even those who do not share the Christian faith can be reminded through the nativity scene that every person has an inalienable dignity, which is inherent and requires no attribution.

Accordingly, every human being deserves respect, appreciation and esteem.

We all belong to the same human family, and it's only through respect for human dignity that community can succeed, solidarity arise for those in need, and help be given with the challenges of life. This is an important message, also - and especially - in light of the many crises of our time.


The nativity scene aims to encourage all of us, so that we're able to achieve this respectful interaction, and thus jointly shape the future of our common human family.

I regret that I'm not able to be present in Edinburgh, to celebrate the presentation of the nativity scene with you all.

I would like to thank Archbishop Leo Cushley for the initiative behind this nativity scene, which has led him to Munich, the twin city of Edinburgh. Both cities, which have been linked in partnership for almost 70 years, have made this project possible - through their efforts and their financial support.

Sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand, centre, took part in the Carol ceremony and blessing of the Nativity scene in Edinburgh.

I thank the Christian churches involved, as well as the private donors, for this sign of togetherness and for their contributions.

And I would like to thank the artist Thomas Hildenbrand very much for his creative depiction and his hard work.

May the nativity scene be a sign of our solidarity across borders, and may it inspire us to work together towards a humane world.

With kind regards and blessings for the upcoming Christmas celebrations,

Reinhard Cardinal Marx
Archbishop of Munich and Freising

SUNDAY: New Nativity scene for Edinburgh

Archbishop Cushley highlighted Edinburgh's new Nativity scene on BBC Radio Scotland, ahead of its unveiling on Sunday.

It is part of the city's Advent Carol Concert which begins at 2pm at the Ross Bandstand in West Princes Street Gardens.

The nativity scene is by sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand from Munich and is a partnership between Edinburgh and Munich (twin cities).

Archbishop Cushley said: "We hope it will be welcomed, but more than that, we hope it will be recognised as a gesture from the people of one European city to another.

"The birth of Jesus was greeted by angels singing 'Peace on earth and goodwill to all!'.  As we look forward to Christmas, we can pray and work for that peace to be real in the world again."

Join voices with a number of Edinburgh’s Christmas church choirs and sing along with traditional carols and hymns, backed by music from the Salvation Army Band at Sunday's event.


Carol Concert & Nativity Blessing

Archbishop Cushley will bless the Nativity scene which is located on The Mound, in Edinburgh, between 3:30pm and 4:00pm. Event is at Mound Place, EH1 1 YZ.

There will be a carol service at the Ross Bandstand in nearby Princess Street Gardens from 3:00pm. This year's nativity scene has been designed by sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand from Germany .

WATCH: School Christmas Gallery

Schools across the Archdiocese have put on nativity plays to retell the birth of Jesus as part of the celebration of our Catholic Faith.
We thank them for keeping Christ in Christmas, and for their festive charity initiatives to help those in need. We wish pupils, teachers, support staff & volunteers a happy, holy Christmas! Watch the video below or on YouTube.

Christmas reflection from Archbishop Leo Cushley

Imagine being born in a stable.

The conditions would be cramped, dark and dirty. And you’d have the unpleasant odour of farm animals to contend with! Christmas card images of the nativity, while often beautiful, airbrush what it was like.

The reality is that our Lord was born in rather abysmal conditions by today’s standards. I don’t know about you, but that makes me marvel. The lesson here is that we’d all do well to imitate such profound humility. Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel was in obedience to the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Christmas is a special time because it brings out the best in people. When we’re humble enough to put others’ needs ahead of our own, everyone benefits.

There’s an annual rise in the number charitable donations each December. Churches and charities across Scotland and beyond hold toy schemes so children can wake up to a present on Christmas morning.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul, which has conferences in many parishes across our Archdiocese, has been busy with Christmas hamper and toy appeals as well as hosting Christmas lunches for the elderly. They couldn’t do it without your generous contributions to the SSVP box after Mass.

We all know that many people struggle at this time of year. While that’s easy to acknowledge, the challenge is to act. No matter how small the sacrifice – a charity tin donation, a coffee with someone who is lonely, a volunteering opportunity – we can all lend a hand. And if you already do this, please continue your good work.

Humility is the basis for opening our hearts and the inspiration to serve others. It leads us to focus a bit less on ourselves (good) and a bit more on others (better). St Bernard says: "Humility is the foundation and guardian of virtues."

When we begin to be more humble we better develop other attributes. How awful to be described as someone who only cares for themselves!

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is a model of humility. Her example of obedience to the will of God stands starkly in contrast with today’s ‘me first’ culture.

Her consent to become the Mother of God changed the course of history. Over 2,000 years later, Christians across the world continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, in a stable in Bethlehem, in such humble conditions.

May your Christmas be filled with peace and joy. God bless you all.

Archbishop Leo Cushley

VIDEO: Carol concert keeps Christ in Christmas

The sound of carols floated across The Mound in Edinburgh at the annual Nativity Carol Concert on Sunday.

The event marked the first day of Advent and featured the Salvation Army brass band, Blackhall St Columba's Choir, Wester Hailes Education Centre Choir and St Andrew's and St George's West Choir.

Bishop John Armes (Scottish Episcopal Church) gave the Christmas message while and Rev Angus Mathieson (Church of Scotland) brought prayers for the City.

Sir Tom Farmer, who sponsors the crib, said: “Aren’t we lucky to live in the greatest city in the world? A number of cities throughout the world no longer celebrate that birth. I congratulate Edinburgh Council for have made sure there is a nativity scene in the city for the last 17 years.”

Archbishop Leo Cushley told those who gathered: “This is a lovely new venue for the crib, right next to the city’s Christmas tree as well. I hope it will contribute to helping people remember why we celebrate with this special festival each year at the beginning of Advent.”

Blessing the crib, he prayed: “God our loving Father we ask you to be close to us as we recall the birth of your son at Christmas. We ask you to bless this image of him and his family so that everyone who sees it will be reminded of he true meaning of Christmas and how you sent your son to save us.”



Catholics to 'kick-start' Advent with carols at Nativity scene

Archbishop Leo Cushley is encouraging Catholics to 'kick-start' their Advent at the annual Nativity Carol Concert in Edinburgh.

The ecumenical event will see carols sung by Blackhall St Columba’s Choir, St Andrew’s and St Georges West Choir, Wester Hailes Education Centre Choir, and the Salvation Army Brass Band. The Nativity Scene itself is donated by Catholic businessman and entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer and his wife.

The free event takes place on Sunday 1 December at 3pm and will be at a new location on The Mound in the city centre.

Archbishop Leo Cushley said: “It’s a great way to kick-start the Advent season. Choirs singing carols, a beautifully lit nativity scene and The Salvation Army bringing the brass! It’s also a positive witness of our Catholic faith -  a chance to show the joy that comes from trusting in God by singing His praise.

"In these days when religion is often pushed to the margins, we’ll be together in a busy city centre location, with other Christians, to announce the Good News of the coming of the Saviour. A special thanks to Sir Tom and Lady Farmer for continuing to donate the nativity scene each year.

"I’m looking forward to blessing the crib, and if it’s a cold day, some enthusiastic carol singing will help keep us all warm!”