The origin of the Nativity Set (creche) is credited to Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Bonaventure tell us how it came about in his book The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi.
In the year 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi was visiting the town of Grecio to celebrate Christmas. Grecio was a small town built on a mountainside overlooking a beautiful valley. Realizing that the chapel of the Franciscan hermitage would be too small to hold the congregation for Midnight Mass, he found a niche in the rock near the town square and set up the altar. However, this Midnight Mass would be unlike any other Midnight Mass.
In order to order to inspire the townspeople to celebrate the birth of Christ with great devotion, Saint Francis prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. This was at a time when miracles plays and Bible re-enactments were commonly performed in churches and town squares, to more deeply engage the people with their faith and learn scripture.
The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that holy night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. Moved with emotion, Saint Francis chanted the Holy Gospel and then preached to the people about "the Babe of Bethlehem."
During the service Brother John of Grecio, formerly a soldier and now a follower of Saint Francis, beheld in a vision an Infant marvellously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awaken Him from sleep.
The truth of the vision was confirmed by miracles: the hay of that manger, being preserved by the people, miraculously cured all diseases of cattle, and many other pestilences. Within a couple centuries the custom of nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe.
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