The Franciscan Family is commemorating the 800th anniversary of the death of St. Francis with a celebration spanning four years. It began by recalling the final approval of the Rule by Honorius III in 1223. Attention then turned to the celebration of Christmas at Greccio. The year 2024 sees the commemoration of the Stigmata, while 2025 will be dedicated to the Canticle of Brother Sun and 2026 to the Transitus.
Here we would like to recall the origin of the Greccio nativity scene, which, while not being – as many would have it – the first construction of a nativity scene, nevertheless is very important in the history of popular piety.
In 1223, in the district of Greccio, returning perhaps from Rome, where he had been received by Honorius III for confirmation of the Rule, Francis wanted to commemorate the birth of Jesus. A few years earlier he had been in the Holy Land, where he had experienced the environment in which Jesus was born and lived. Also in Rome he may have visited the Oratory dedicated to the Nativity in St Mary Major. In the caves and valleys of Rieti he found an atmosphere apt to recreate the environment of Bethlehem. The feast of the Nativity was for Francis the “Feast of feasts, the day when God, made a little infant, suckled at a human breast.” Therefore, more than all other solemnities, “he celebrated with ineffable solemnity the Christmas of the Child Jesus.”