Neapolitan Nativity Scene Honoring 9/11 to Stay at Italian Cultural Foundation On Staten Island

NY Daily News - December 23, 2011

by Lore Croghan NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Sept. 11-Themed Creche From Naples Features Three Kings Offering Helmets Marked '9,' '11' and '01'

A NATIVITY scene given to the FDNY to pay touching tribute to the fallen firefighters of 9/11 has found a permanent home.

Foot-tall figurines of the Three Kings in the handcrafted creche from Italy carry surprising gifts for Baby Jesus: Three walnut-sized firefighters' helmets, one painted with the numbers 9, 11, and 01.

The miniature helmets memorialize firefighters who died in the World Trade Center terror attack, and are presented instead of their usual gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"The Three Kings with the fire helmets say it all -- the sacrifice of the firefighters was a gift to the world," said Daniel Nigro, retired FDNY chief of department.

He was instrumental in making the Italian Cultural Foundation on Staten Island the caretaker of the Solidarity Creche, as it's called. The 120-piece Nativity scene, a gift to the Fire Department from the Naples, Italy, Chamber of Commerce in December 2001, hasn't been exhibited since Christmas 2006.

It's now on display through Jan. 6 at the cultural foundation's Grymes Hill headquarters building, Casa Belvedere.

The foundation's executive director, Louis Calvelli, who was on the hunt for a Nativity scene to display at headquarters, accepted the creche sight unseen.

"It is absolutely magnificent," he said.

The figurines are museum-quality, made of terra-cotta, hemp and cotton.

Visitors to the creche this week were wowed by the artistry and commemorative message.

"It gives you the chills," said Fred Guinta, 64, of Todt Hill, Staten Island.

"It's a great tribute. People have a tendency to forget those boys," Rose Pannini, 80, of Rego Park, Queens, said of the firefighters who died on 9/11.

Pannini also appreciated the Neapolitan-style design of the creche, which mingles Biblical characters with scenes from the Italian countryside of yesteryear. One figurine was wearing a traditional dress like the one her grandmother was buried in, she said.

Maria Romano, 62, from the Dongan Hills Colony section of Staten Island, was touched by the tiny firefighters' helmets perched on scarlet pillows.

Naples' Chamber of Commerce did well, she said, to offer a 9/11 commemorative in the form of a creche, an art form for which its local craftsmen are renowned.

"They wanted to make a statement -- 'Hello, this is from us, the Neapolitans,' " she said. "They're giving us their best."