Francis of Assisi, The Christmas Crib
"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."
Fresco of the first crib by Giotto and assistants
in Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi
intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all
things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the
longing of his mind and all the fervor of his heart, "to
follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ." He would recall
Christ´s word through persistent meditation and bring to mind his deeds through the most
penetrating consideration. The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion
occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything
What he did on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ near the little town called Greccio
in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with
reverent memory. In that place there was a certain man by the name of John, of good
reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love, for in
the place where he lived he held a noble and honorable position in as much as he had
trampled upon the nobility of his birth and pursued nobility of soul.
Blessed Francis sent for this man, as he often did, about fifteen days before the birth of
the Lord, and he said to him: "If you want us to celebrate the present fast of our
Lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do
something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem 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. "When the good and faithful man heard these things, he ran with haste and
prepared in that place att the things the saint had told him.
But the day of joy drew near, the time of great rejoicing came. The brothers were called
from their various places. Men and women of that neighborhood prepared with glad hearts, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that
night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star. At length the
saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, he saw it and was glad.
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. The solemnities of the Mass were celebrated
over the manger and the priest experienced a new consolation.
The saint of God was clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was a deacon, and he
sang the holy Gospel in a sonorous voice. And his voice was a strong voice, a sweet voice,
a clear voice, a sonorous voice, inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to
the people standing about, and he spoke charming words concerning the nativity of the poor
king and the little town of Bethlehem.
Frequently too, when he wished to call Christ Jesus, he would call him simply the Child of
Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice
was more like the bleating of a sheep, His mouth was filled more with sweet affection than
with words. Besides, when he spoke the name Child of Bethlehem or Jesus, his tongue licked
his lips, as it were, relishing and savoring with pleased palate the sweetness of the
The gifts of the Almighty were multiplied there, and a wonderful vision was seen by a
certain virtuous man. For he 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. At length the solemn night
celebration was brought to a close, and each one returned to his home with holy joy.
The hay that had been placed in the manger was kept, so that the Lord might save the
beasts of burden and other animals through it as he multiplied his holy mercy. And in
truth it so happened that many animals throughout the surrounding region that had various
illnesses were freed from their illnesses after eating of this hay. Indeed, even women
laboring for a long time in a difficult birth, were delivered safely when some of this hay
was placed upon them; and a large number of persons of both sexes of that place, suffering
from various illnesses, obtained the health they sought.
Later, the place on which the manger had stood was made sacred by a temple of the Lord,
and an altar was built in honor of the most blessed father Francis over the manger and a
church was built, so that where once the animals had eaten the hay, there in the future
men would eat unto health of soul and body the flesh of the lamb without blemish and
without spot, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in highest and ineffable love gave himself to us,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, eternally glorious, forever
and ever. Amen. Alleluja, Alleluja.
Here ends the first book about the life and acts of Blessed FRANCIS."
-Thomas of Celano, Vita prima
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