What was the first living Nativity scene like?
To win the hearts of the faithful of those who could not go on pilgrimage, Francis had the simple but revolutionary idea of bringing Bethlehem to Christians. He then organized a “staging” with ox, donkey, and manger with straw. Farmers and shepherds joined the friars to attend mass.
A stone placed over the manger was the altar for the Eucharist. To Giovanni Velita, who made the cave available to his friend Francesco, it seemed that the baby Jesus was in the manger, flesh, and blood. A priest celebrated the Eucharist because the humble Francis wanted to remain only a deacon.
Is there a representation of the first Francis’ Christmas Crib?
The cave is located in Greccio, in Rieti, where the event is commemorated every year with a historical re-enactment. A Sanctuary has arisen around the core of the cave. There is a fresco of Francesco’s nativity scene (a copy of Giotto’s) next to Bethlehem’s Nativity. In fact, it was Giotto, at the end of 1200, who represented “the Greccio nativity scene” in the Upper Basilica of Assisi (in the photo). Although Giotto placed the scene within a presbytery and from the apse’s point of view, it is important historical documentation. As in the other frescoes of the Assisi cycle, Giotto painted existing places and real faces. A crowd of people attend the celebration; women cannot enter and watch from the door. Francis wears the white robe of the deacon. The child is the incarnation of the Eucharist, as as it seemed to Giovani. The friars are singing facing the lectern, meticulously reproduced by Giotto.
Giotto’s works were revolutionary for the time and laid the foundations for realistic and three-dimensional painting. It will be possible to admire this and other works by Giotto on the Saint’s life, taking part in a visit to the Basilica of Assisi.