OLPH Parish | Advent | St Francis & the Creche, Fact or Fiction?

OLPH Parish | Advent | St Francis & the Creche, Fact or Fiction?

Our Theme for this Week: The Nativity Creche.

As we imagine the scene of Jesus’ birth, today we reflect on the origin and awe of the Creche.

The Christmas Creche, also called the Nativity Scene, is a long-standing Christian tradition enjoyed by millions around the world each year to commemorate the birth of Christ. But where did it originate? The story of the first Creche goes all the way back to the year 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis of Assisi was visiting the city for the celebration of Christmas. St. Francis asked for permission from Pope Honorious to set up a creche in the cave that he was living in outside of the city. His desire was to help the people of the city to truly enter into contemplation of the mystery and glory of Christ’s birth. He knew that beholding something tangible is a very human way to aid contemplation. To that end, the cave was set up as a cattle stall; there were live actors to play Joseph and Mary, as well as a live donkey and cow, and a little baby (either real or perhaps a figure) to make up the scene. While some historians believe that the creche predated St. Francis, there can be no doubt that he at the very least helped popularize it to such an extent that it is still with us today.

St. Bonaventure in his biography of St. Francis described the first creche thus: “The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.”

Much like other forms of religious devotional art, the idea behind the creche is to draw us into the contemplation of the truth being conveyed. When we see the Babe of Bethlehem in the manger may we too be moved to a “tenderness of love” for the Savior who loves us so infinitely much that he chose to begin his mission of redemption in our world as a baby!

Reflection question: When we set up our family creche at home, or seem them at Church or out in public spaces, do we take it for granted? Or do we, as the holy man of Assisi, let it truly move our hearts to devotion, piety, and radiant joy?