Pax et Bonum: Current and past history is filled with the individual, community and national quest for peace, often resulting in abandoning homes and relocation. According to tradition, the area of Greccio (Italy) was first established by exiled citizens of a Greek community that was fleeing their home country because of war. Mount Lacerone’s terrain seemed like a protected area for the peace searching settlers and they named it Greccio. It eventually included a fortified medieval castle with external walls and towers. The decedents of those who had sacrificed their Greek homes to escape war, in turn still had to struggle through even more local wars culminating in the town’s destruction by Napoleon’s Army in 1799. However, this beautiful area did also enjoy times of great peace and it was in 1223 Greccio that St. Francis of Assisi first portrayed a Living Nativity, on Christmas Eve, in its natural cave, known as the Chapel of Presepio. He had found a much needed peace in Greccio after visting Rome and wanted a peaceful option for pilgrims to celebrate the birth of Our Lord, instead of traveling to the Holy Land to Bethlehem, as that area was under the dominant and dangerous control of the Turks. He first visited the Castello di Grecccio village in 1217, where his preaching converted the citizens. A permanent quarters was built for St. Francis and his Companions nearby. Although reluctant to have his followers close to the distractions of village life, St. Francis agreed as long as the quarters would be built a stone’s throw away from the village. A small boy was asked to throw a lit torch and wherever it landed, the quarters would be built. Shockingly the torch landed over a mile away, where hallowed out caves in a rocky hill became their dwelling. In modern day life, this spot is a beautiful stop for pilgrims and includes an exhibit of model creches from all over the world, as well as the opportunity to see how St. Francis and his followers lived, prayed, rested and celebrated.
Please take a moment to please read this 84-87 excerpt from: “The First Life of St. Francis” – Thomas of Celano
Chapter 30: Of the manger that he made on Christmas day
84. His chief intention, his principal desire and supreme purpose was in and through all tings to observe the holy Gospel, and with all watchfulness, all zeal, all the longing of his mind and all the fervor of his heart perfectly to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and tread in His footsteps. He would recall His words with assiduous meditation and dwell on His works with the most piercing consideration. And chiefly did the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion so occupy his memory that he would scarce ponder over anything else. Therefore that which he did at the fortress called Greccio on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ in the third year before the day of his glorious decease is to be recorded and dwelt on with reverent memory.
There was in that place a man named John, of good repute, but of better life, whom blessed Francis loved with special affection, because, having been a man of the most noble and honorable position in his town, he had trampled on the nobility of the flesh, and followed after the nobility of the mind. This man did blessed Francis send for (as he was often wont) about fifteen days before the Nativity of the Lord, and said to him, “If you will that we celebrate the present festival of the Lord at Greccio, make haste to go before and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I would make memorial of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, and in some sort behold with bodily eyes His infant hardships; how He lay in a manger on the hay, with the ox and the ass standing by.” When the good and faithful man heard it, he made haste and prepared in the aforesaid place all the things that the Saint had told him of.
85. The day of gladness drew nigh, the time of exultation arrived. The brethren, were summoned from many places; the men and women of that town with exulting hearts prepared tapers and torches, as they were able to illuminate that night which with its radiant Star has illuminated all the days and years. At length the Saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, beheld them and rejoiced. The manger had been made ready, the hay ass were led in.
There Simplicity was honored, Poverty exalted, Humility commended; and of Greccio there was made as it were a new Bethlehem. The night was lit up as the day, and was delightful to men and beasts. The people came, and at the new Mystery rejoiced with new rejoicing. The woodland rang with voices, the rocks made answer to the jubilant throng. The brethren sang, yielding due praises to the Lord, and all that night resounded with jubilation. The Saint of God stood before the manger, full of sighs, overcome with tenderness and filled with wondrous joy. The solemnities of Mass were celebrated over the manger, and the priest enjoyed a new consolation.
86. The Saint of God was vested with Levitical ornaments, for he was a Levite, and with sonorous voice chanted the holy Gospel–an earnest, sweet, clear and loud-sounding voice; inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people who stood around, and uttered mellifluous words concerning the birth of the poor King and the little town of Bethlehem. (And often, when he would name Christ Jesus, aglow with exceeding love he would call Him the Child of Bethlehem, and, uttering the word “Bethlehem” in the manner of a sheep bleating, he filled his mouth with the sound, but even more his whole self with the sweet affection. Moreover, in naming “the Child of Bethlehem” or “Jesus” he would, as it were, lick his lips, relishing with happy palate, and swallowing the sweetness of that word.) There the gifts of the Almighty were multiplied, and a vision of wondrous efficacy was seen by a certain man; for in the manger he saw a little child lying lifeless, to whom the Saint of God seemed to draw near and (as it were) to rouse the child from the lethargy of sleep. Nor was this vision incongruous; for the child Jesus had been given over to forgetfulness in the hearts of many in whom, by the working of His Grace, He was raised up again through His servant Francis and imprinted on a diligent memory.
At length the solemn vigil was ended, and each one returned with joy to his own place.
87. The hay placed in the manger was kept, in order that thereby the Lord might save beasts of burden and other animals, even as He multiplied His holy mercy. And verily so it came to pass, for many animals in the region round about which had divers diseases were freed from their sicknesses by eating of that hay. Moreover, women in long and grievous labor were safely delivered by putting some of the hay on themselves, and a crowd of persons of either sex suffering from various ailments gained their long-wished-for health at that same place. Finally the place of the manger was hallowed as a temple to the Lord, and in honor of the most blessed father Francis, over the manger an altar was reared and a church dedicated, to the end that where beasts had once eaten fodder of hay, men might thenceforth for the healing of soul and body eat the flesh of the spotless and undefiled Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who in highest and unspeakable charity gave Himself for us, Who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, God eternally glorious, world without end. Amen, Alleluia, Alleluia.