The Tradition of the Crib





In 1223, St Francis of Assisi had just returned to Italy from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While there, he had seen the place where Christ was born. It was approaching Christmas, and he was trying to think of a way of bringing alive for others what he had seen for himself while in Bethlehem.

He realised people often need a tangible source to reimagine such a great happening. If they could see, hear and smell what had occurred, they could place themselves at the scene. In the woods near Greccio there was a cave and he felt it would be the ideal place to recreate the humble birth of the Christ Child.

His close friend and follower, Giovanni Vellita was lord of Greccio, so St. Francis called on him to help put his idea in motion. He asked him to gather hay for a simple manger and to bring an ox and ass. With the scene set, they invited the local people to attend. Villagers arrived with candles, and they sang as they approached through the woods. A priest said mass and St. Francis himself preached.

The simple and uplifting celebration was to remember that momentous occasion of Christ’s birth was into modest circumstances. He was born as any of us are born. He was placed into a manger, surrounded by his mother, St Joseph and animals. This simplicity is what we should remember when we recall His coming into this world. The tiny infant represented peace and love.

Following this event, the custom of having a crib at Christmas spread throughout Europe and indeed the rest of the world.  Although there had been replicas of the nativity scene as far back as the 5th century, the simplicity of this particular one struck a chord and so began a Christmas tradition for Christians the world over.

Sunday December 17th, 2023 is Bambinelli Sunday. Fr. Richard will bless your cribs or baby Jesus at the 12pm mass in the Basilica.

All are welcome!