For many people the simplicity and tenderness of the crib is a welcome reminder of what Christmas is all about. When St. Francis of Assisi built the first Christmas crib at Greccio in Italy (eight hundred years ago this year!) could he have imagined how popular the crib would become? The little sanctuary and the town of Greccio was twined with the town of Bethlehem in 1992; a fitting tribute to the little Italian village which gave us the crib and thereby helped bring the message of Bethlehem into our homes, our churches, and our hearts.


Writing of St. Francis and his times, the late Pope Benedict XVI declared: ‘At that time the Church had a superficial faith which did not shape or transform life, a scarcely zealous clergy, and a chilling of love’.


With simplicity, courtesy, and faith, St. Francis set about warming the hearts of Christians again by telling once more the story of that amazing love and humility of God who becomes small and vulnerable in a manger in Bethlehem. The earliest biographies of St. Francis include accounts of that very first crib in Greccio, in 1223:


St Francis “had a manger prepared, hay carried in and an ox and an ass led to the spot. The brethren are summoned, the people arrive, the forest amplifies with their cries, and that venerable night is rendered brilliant and solemn by a multitude of bright lights and by resonant and harmonious hymns of praise. The man of God stands before the manger, filled with piety, bathed in tears, and overcome with joy.” (St. Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis).


Pope Francis at Greccio.


Franciscans all over the world are celebrating the ‘miracle’ of Greccio on this eighth centenary year. In our friary in Galway the community a busy preparing a display of cribs in the Greccio chapel, attached to the friary church. Brother Ronan has been working away with others to bring something of the spirit of Greccio to Galway. Pride of place will go to the Neapolitan crib.


A Neapolitan crib is an old Italian custom; it is a crib scene that places the Infant Jesus, Our Lady, and St. Joseph in the midst of a busy Italian market town of the 18th century, with all of life going on around them. The Neapolitan crib reminds us that the mystery of the Incarnation is always breaking into our busy lives; meeting us where we are. God continues to pitch his tent among us.


As individual Christians, and as a Church, we know that our love can grow cold and we can become dispirited and gloomy. We can get swept along by a tide of bad news and a culture of blaming and point-scoring. It does us good to rediscover the depths of God’s love for us each year at Christmas.


If you are visiting Galway this Advent/Christmas why not make a visit to our crib display in the Greccio chapel. The display opens officially on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will remain open through the Christmas season. You are most welcome to call in and view the cribs. This is our way of celebrating the gift of the Christmas crib; a gift that the passage of eight centuries has not managed to diminish or to dim.


Friar Liam Kelly OFM

If you are interested in the Franciscan way of life please contact:

Friar Liam Kelly OFM
Phone:  087 396 0262 
Postal address: Franciscan Friary, Ennis, Co Clare.