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Famed cathedral's dog becomes nativity star

It’s not unusual to find a nativity at a church this time of year, but the scene at in New York City has a little something that stands out. His name is Lexington II.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It’s not unusual to find a nativity at a church this time of year, but the scene at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City has a little something that stands out. His name is Lexington II.Msgr. Robert Ritchie, the famed cathedral's rector, added a new statue to the scene this year — a dog, modeled after a yellow Labrador named Lexington.

He was heartbroken when he entered a pet shop on New York's Lexington Ave. 15 years ago, as his previous canine companion had just died after 10 years of devotion. He didn’t want another dog, but in the shop, a friendly Lab puppy licked his hand — and he was hooked. Lexington hasn’t left his side since.

The dog statue was created in Ortisei, Italy, at the Demetz Art Studio — the same studio that carved the Jesus, Mary, Joseph and other parts of the crèche. The statue is actually a Golden Retriever, not a yellow Labrador, but when Msgr. Ritchie reached out to the studio, the dog had already been carved. It might not be a perfect fit, but the man in charge of painting the statue came to New York and loved Lexington’s coloring, so the Lab’s coat inspired the finishing touches.While the new addition has plenty of fans, some visitors don’t think a dog belongs next to the baby Jesus, according to a report in the New York Daily News.

Nativity scene, featuring a dog next to Mary,at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.Katie Quinn

Msgr. Ritchie thinks there are a few things the statue's detractors should know: “One of the things I tell people is that there is nothing in the Gospel narrative that mentions any animals at Bethlehem," he told "The ox and donkey are traditional but there is nothing in the Bible mentioning them. The shepherds obviously are mentioned, and wouldn't it be logical for them to bring some of their sheep and their sheep dog to meet baby Jesus? St. Francis of Assisi was responsible for starting the tradition of the crèche, and he loved dogs. When I was in Assisi last year, I saw the Franciscan Crèche outside his Church and there were dogs in the scene.”

The statue is popular, but the real Lexington is the cathedral's real star. A beloved member of the St. Patrick’s flock, Lexington accompanied his owner at his previous parishes, too, walking with the school children, running through snow, and jumping into any body of water he could find. “Every year on Columbus Day I would take him to the Delaware Water Gap with some kids from the school. We would hike about 10 miles through the woods, explore caves and Lex would jump into the Delaware River and chase the sticks the kids would throw into the water.”

At 15, Lexington is slowing down a bit — he doesn’t do as much running, and, as far as a Christmas treats go, Ritchie says, “The T-bone steaks of the past will have to downsize to doggie cookies.”

But his — and his wooden doppelganger’s — presence has already helped build some Christmas spirit in the city.

“We set the scene up earlier than most churches because people are coming to see the tree," said Ritchie. "The Nativity scene at St. Patrick's tells the ultimate meaning of why we celebrate Christmas and why we set up our trees and lights in celebration of Jesus's birth. I hope people will bring an understanding of the real meaning of Christmas after seeing the Nativity scene at St. Patrick's.”