Did you know that it was St. Francis of Assisi who created the first nativity scene?
In 1223, Saint Francis had the idea of creating a living portrait of the birth of Jesus, as a way to bring the Gospel stories to life. Legend has it that local shepherds, guarding their flocks outside the small Italian town of Greccio, provided the inspiration.
Saint Francis had some of the villagers dress in robes, and live animals were positioned outside a cave. On Christmas Eve, people came from all over to see the powerful scene. Saint Francis urged the people to rejoice in the wonder of Christ’s birth. The image above was taken of the nativity just outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.
Over time the presepio, as it is called in Italy, grew in popularity. Other towns began featuring them and soon people had individual nativity scenes in their own homes. Wealthy families hired famous sculptors to make their nativity scenes. I’ve had the chance to visit many churches in Italy during the Christmas season, and that’s where I really fell in love with Italian presepio. Many towns and churches throughout Italy set up elaborate nativity scenes. People walk from place to place admiring the beauty and uniqueness of each rendition.
Remember, one the greatest titles of Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. As we get our houses ready to celebrate Christmas, one of the most wonderful reminders that Jesus was born among us is to have at least one nativity scene in your home. If you don’t own one, please pick one up this year, and put it in a prominent place, so that throughout these special days, you will be reminded again and again that God is truly with us.
Here’s two of my nativity scenes.