Nativity window in the Greccio Chapel at our church in Galway
About 1223 A.D., something marvelous happened. St. Francis made a living crib, an enactment of the birth of Christ near the town of Greccio on Christmas Day, and so popularized the making of a crib scene in our homes, workplaces, churches, hospitals, schools and shops at Christmas.
Desiring to represent as faithfully as possible the lowly poverty of the infancy of the Saviour born at Bethlehem, when the Feast of the Nativity was at hand, Francis sent word to a religious nobleman in the town of Greccio named John who provided an ox and an ass, with a stable, in anticipation of the joys of the coming celebration.
Finally the holy night arrived, and Francis was there with many of his brothers gathered around him.
The hay in the manger is prepared, the ox and the ass are arranged around the manger, and the vigil celebration begins with joy. A great multitude of people stream together from various places with candles and torches as requested by Francis to light up the night just like that first Christmas night lit by a star. He ensured that everybody including flora (represented by hay) and fauna (represented by the ox and ass) had a part to play in the Nativity scene since he knew that the Saviour was born for all.
And so, out of Greccio was made a new Bethlehem! Francis stood before the manger overcome with joy, and Mass was celebrated over the crib. After the celebration, Francis insisted that care be taken of the hay and the animals, reminding us to take care of every created thing even after we no longer need it!
St. Francis' initiative at Greccio popularized the making of a Christmas crib in our homes, churches, hospitals, schools and other places where we wish to remember the Christmas event.
- St. Francis