FAMILIES are being invited to explore a festive exhibition and enjoy the Christmas story at a Radcliffe church.

A unique handmade French-style Christmas model village has been put on display at St Thomas and St John, in Blackburn Street, alongside 'Journey to Bethlehem', a seasonal series of tableaux combining art, sculpture and other visual elements to tell the biblical tale of the Nativity and Holy Family's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The village, or crèche, has been made by a French parishioner Maryse Gooderson, aged 63, who now lives in Bury, and features a traditional nativity, houses, a French style cafe with a table and chairs outside and archways, illuminated by fairy lights.

Constructed from polystyrene packaging, Plaster of Paris and balsa wood, with some buildings standing over a foot high, the village also boasts a chapel and a windmill based on a real buildings in Provence; and a 'troglodyte cave' similarly based on an existing cave in the region which houses a 16th century chateaux.

Ms Gooderson said: "Making model villages is tradition that is particularly strong in parts of the south of France.

"It all started quite a long time ago with the tradition moving from Italy to France.

"During the French Revolution, when people couldn't be too open about their religion, people started having little figures and nativity scenes in their homes and the tradition comes from there.

"I knew that we at the church were doing something special for Christmas and my idea was to try and attract people to the church in Radcliffe, and attract their attention to our very special organ which badly needs restoration, and a lot of money spent on it.

"I started on the village in September and I have worked on it literally every day and a lot of nights as well.

"I have to say I am quite pleased with the result.

"The village is going to be in the church throughout December, but normally in France they would be left out until Candlemas."

The crèche has already been a hit with parishioners and visitors and Ms Gooderson believes that her village could become a yearly festive feature at St Thomas and St John, and already has plans to add another house and a bridge.

Carol Cain, a member of the parochial church council, said: "It is absolutely superb. I have never seen anything like it."

A lover of arts and crafts activities Ms Gooderson often turns her talent to helping fundraise for the church and also sells her wares at craft events to raise money for a disability charity, Association des Handicápes, run by two of her friends in Bray County on the border of Normandy and Picardy.

Ms Gooderson said: "I started making Christmas decorations because we needed money for the church.

"The aim was that if I could make things to support the church that would be worth doing and that encouraged me to do more."