The present figures which make up the Christmas crib display were designed by the Reverend Christopher Hildyard, former Sacrist of Westminster Abbey. Lady de Grimston was the donor.
They were carved in lime wood by Hans and Adolf Heinzeller in Oberammergau, Germany but coloured in England by Mr Finney of Campbell Smith & Co. They were first set up at Christmas 1966 (replacing a set of figures designed by French artist Denis Fernand Py donated in 1939).
The figures, each about five feet high, consist of the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child), three shepherds and three kings. There are three sheep, a small lamb in a bag carried by a shepherd, an ass and an ox (the last two being carved from an old wooden tie-beam from the Abbey roof which was being restored at the time the crib was being made). It has been the custom for some years for the shepherds to be placed in the display for the Christmas period and at Epiphany the Kings replace them. The figure of the King in the white robe represents St Edward the Confessor, a founder of the Abbey, who offers a ring as a gift.
The biggest challenge we face is maintaining such a large physical collection of material within a historic building – believe it or not, there’s just not enough space for it all.