The New Bethlehem at Greccio


This fresco was completed by Giotto and his assistants to commemorate St. Francis and his creation of the first manger scene. “I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem,” Francis said, “and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of His infant needs, how He lay in a manager, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, He lay upon the hay where He had been placed.”

greccio2Why did St. Francis want to recall this moment in the life Our Lord to the mind of the people at Greccio? Thomas of Celano tells us that Francis “saw a little child lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw the holy man of God go up to it and rouse the Child as from a deep sleep. This vision was not unfitting, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of His grace, He was brought to life again through His servant St. Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory.”

The manger was prepared, the hay had been brought, the ox and ass were led in. There simplicity was honored, poverty was exalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem. The night was lighted up like the day, and it delighted men and beasts. The people came and were filled with new joy over the new mystery. The woods rang with the voices of the crowd and the rocks made answer to their jubilation. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness.

St. Thomas of Celano from his life of St. Francis

A blessed Christmas to all!

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