The Admont nativity scene is an important example of Austrian Baroque woodcarving. Every year on the 24th of December, this important work of art is unveiled in the Admont Abbey Church. The nativity scene was carved by Josef Stammel in 1755/56 and coloured by the painter Anton Pötschnigg.
The Nativity scene is housed in a neo-Gothic folding altar in the rearmost chapel of the nave. Its theme is three of the main feasts of the Christmas season: the Birth of Christ (24/25 December), the Adoration of the Magi (6 January) and the Circumcision of Christ (at the centre of the manger scene; 1 January). A ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ roundel in the sky above completes the composition. The figures were carved by Josef Stammel in 1755/56. The altar wings are closed again on 2 February (the Feast of Candlemas).
There are a wealth of symbolic allusions to be discovered in this manger scene with its numerous figures and details. These include the owl as an emblem of spiritual darkness (paganism) to which the radiance of Christ brings enlightenment. And there is the young shepherd who is bearing a loaf of bread that has a rhomboid form that hints at that of the coat of arms of Admont Abbey. The colourful parrot represents the Jewish Pharisees while the three women in the temple personify the three Christian virtues of Love, Hope and Faith.
An old Catholic tradition is to leave the nativity scenes until February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemass. On this day, the Admont nativity scene is closed ceremoniously.