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The First Creche Made by St. Francis

St. Bonaventure
In his Life of Saint Francis of Assisi Saint Bonaventure relates the story of the first recorded commemorative creche scene. St. Francis of Assisi was always mindful of the humility of Our Lord, born in poverty in the cold manger of Bethlehem. After petitioning the Holy Father for permission, St. Francis set up a manger scene in a cave outside the Italian town of Greccio. This Saint, on fire with love for God, understood well that our senses and mind benefit by appreciating the truth of Incarnation reconstituted in a symbolic representation of it. His example was universally immitated among Catholics. This is why today we can contemplate Our Saviour in the manger scenes of our own homes and churches during this Advent and Christmas. St. Bonaventure recalls that first precedent...
Now three years before his death it befell that he was minded, at the town of Greccio, to celebrate the memory of the Birth of the Child Jesus, with all the added solemnity that he might, for the kindling of devotion. That this might not seem an innovation, he sought and obtained license from the Supreme Pontiff, and then made ready a manger, and bade hay, together with an ox and an ass, be brought unto the spot.

Detail from St. Francis & the Crib, by Giotto

St. Francis envisions the Child Jesus in the crib set up amidst the makeshift cave chapel of Greccio

The Brethren were called together, the folk assembled, the wood echoed with their voices, and that august night was made radiant and solemn with many bright lights, and with tuneful and sonorous praises. The man of God, filled with tender love, stood before the manger, bathed in tears, and overflowing with joy. Solemn Masses were celebrated over the manger, Francis, the Levite of Christ, chanting the Holy Gospel. Then he preached unto the folk standing round of the Birth of the King in poverty, calling Him, when he wished to name Him, the Child of Bethlehem, by reason of his tender love for Him.

A certain knight, valorous and true, Messer John of Greccio, who for the love of Christ had left the secular army, and was bound by closest friendship unto the man of God, declared that he beheld a little Child right fair to see sleeping in that manger. Who seemed to be awakened from sleep when the blessed Father Francis embraced Him in both arms. This vision of the devout knight is rendered worthy of belief, not alone through the holiness of him that beheld it, but is also confirmed by the truth that it set forth, and withal proven by the miracles that followed it.

For the example of Francis, if meditated upon by the world, must needs stir up sluggish hearts unto the faith of Christ, and the hay that was kept back from the manger by the folk proved a marvellous remedy for sick beasts, and a prophylactic against divers other plagues, God magnifying by all means His servant, and making manifest by clear and miraculous portents the efficacy of his holy prayers.

St. Bonaventura, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, chap, 10, sec. 7
New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904 - trans. E. Gurney Salter

Posted December 26, 2015


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