The creche in Greccio
On Christmas Eve in 1223, San Francesco realizes a living creche in Greccio, helped by local people and by Giovanni Velita, a local gentleman, with the aim of recreating the mistyc atmosphere of Bethlehem Christmas, to see with his own eyes where Jesus was born.
Everything had been prepared and, with the Pope Onorio III authorization, that night has been realized the first living creche in the world.
The characters who gave life to "Il Presepio di San Francisco" that night in 1223 are those who have been handed down by the tradition and by the history sources, the Tommaso da Celano and San Bonaventura writings:
- San Francesco: who arrived in his wandering on Mount Greccio in 1208, where he meets Sir Giovanni Velita and the local people and shares with them his project and ask the necessary cooperation to accomplish it;
- Giovanni Velita: Lord of Greccio, counts of Celano and Berardi family descendant, who becomes the Saint very good friend and contributes to the project with him. In spite of being well on in his years, he did not hesitate to reach San Francesco over the mountains of Greccio to persuade him to move to the village and there, nearby Fonte Colombo, the Saint expressed his desire to relive in Greccio the mistery of Bethlehem Christmas;
- Alticama: daughter of Guido Castelli, Lord of Stroncone, Giovanni Velita's bride, who takes part industriously to the event, manufacturing personally the Sacred Image of Infant Jesus;
- the Heralds - guards and servants loyal to the noble Velita who support him in any of his activities and go all over the valley to assemble the people for Greccio's Christmas;
- the Nobles: courtiers witnesses of that mystic night event, which has been lived as their Lord retinue;
- the Friars: fellows of San Francesco, who were faithfully following him everywhere, like Fra' Leone, Rugino and Angelo, three followers who, in future, from Greccio, will write their testimony on San Francesco's life in "The three fellows legend";
- finally the people who run in mass after the heralds' call, carrying large candles and torches to illuminate that special night, climbing up the wood with songs and prayers, animated by a profound faith waken up in them by the "Poverello d'Assisi".
In these places, was born and developed the "Presepe di Greccio" sanctuary, where since 1973, every year, traditionally, the Event is exactly recalled. P.Valerio Casponi had the idea of performing the first living creche, and today to its realization partecipate about onehundred people among figurants and technicians, engaged in the representation, which takes place in Greccio on the 24th and 26th of December and on the 6th of January.
The performance is accomplished in four pictures:
- in the first picture "San Francesco alla Cappelletta" it is told about the Saint reaching Greccio mountains, where he builds his own shelter, then called precisely "Cappelletta".
- in the second picture, "Lancio del Tizzo" ("Dash of the brand"), it can be seen the Saint arriving in Greccio village and, urged by local population, he resolves to establish his home in the same place where a burning brand, dashed by a young boy from the Greccio square, will fall. Prodigiously, and traditionally, the brand fell in the same spot where today stands the present franciscan sanctuary;
- in the third part "Giovanni Velita a Fonte Colombo" it is shown the meeting of the Lord of Greccio with San Francesco, who was at Fonte Colombo to draft the Grey Frairs Rules, when the Saint declares his desire to relive in Greccio the Nativity scene and asks for his help;
- in the fourth and conclusive picture, it is relived that holy night atmosphere in 1223 with the birth of the Infant Jesus, who is shown to the people by San Francesco. The legend says that the Sacred Image of Infant Jesus, in the Saint hands, became animated and blest the gathered crowd.