Since Advent is now here, many of you may be pulling out your Nativity sets, also known as a creche. Many Catholics wait to place the Baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas, symbolizing our hopeful expectation for his birth and then his arrival.

Did you know, however, about the creche’s connection to our spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi? St. Francis is known for making the very first Nativity scene! When he was a deacon in the thirteenth century, he realized that the chapel would be too small to hold the congregation due to come for the midnight Christmas Mass. He found a niche in the rock in a suitable place in the town and set up an altar. However, wanting to make the most of the outdoor setup, he created a manger, even bringing an ox and a donkey along.

But this was to be no ordinary manger scene. St. Bonaventure writes that a credible witness, a soldier and friend of Francis – Master John Grecio, saw in the manger a live baby, one whom Francis reached out to embrace. Grecio’s vision of the Christ child reminds us that Christ was truly present in that manger in Bethlehem. Next time you see a Nativity scene, remember that this is much more than a story, but a historical reality–Christ really has come to dwell among us!


Image: The Legend of Saint Francis. Institution of the Crib at Greccio, by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337). Fresco, 270×230 cm, 1296-99. Basilica di San Francesco (Upper Church), Assisi, Italy

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