The celebratory events for the 800th anniversary of the first nativity scene in Greccio at the Franciscan Monastery concluded on Sunday, January 7, coinciding with the solemnity of Epiphany. The final events hosted to mark the momentous anniversary included a Family Day on Saturday, January 6, and a Christmas concert on Sunday, January 7. These were the culmination of a series of initiatives promoted by the friars of the Franciscan Monastery, which started at the beginning of the Advent season.
The festivities aimed to commemorate the first nativity scene in history, created by Saint Francis 800 years ago. According to his first biographer, Tommaso da Celano, on Christmas day in 1223, Francis wanted to recreate the birth of Jesus in Greccio by setting up a nativity scene that emphasized poverty, honored simplicity, and praised humility. Thus, Francis turned Greccio into the new Bethlehem. From that event, a vibrant tradition has developed, embraced by millions of Christians worldwide, expressed through the traditional setting up of nativity scenes in homes during Advent and Christmas.
Nativity Scene Exhibit
The friars of the Franciscan Monastery hosted an exhibition of nativity scenes from a private collection made available to the public. Nativity scenes from around the world were displayed inside the Monastery and numerous visitors, including families with children, collectors, and the curious, flocked to see nativity scenes of various sizes, craftsmanship, materials, and cultures. These scenes were the result of almost 50 years of careful collection by Marguerite and Roger Sullivan, a local married couple whose private collection constituted a significant portion of the Monastery’s exhibition.
The significance of the Greccio anniversary was also highlighted through another initiative involving the Franciscan convent: the plenary indulgence. In 2023, the Conference of the Franciscan Family requested the Holy Father grant this special means of total remission of sins on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the first nativity scene, to be carried out in every parish and Franciscan place of worship under normal conditions. With the Apostolic Penitentiary favorably responding to the request, the doors of the Franciscan Monastery remained open, allowing the faithful to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.
The granting of the Plenary Indulgence under these conditions can be obtained until February 2, 2024.
The Blessing of the Onesies and the Luminaria
The onesies initiative involved collecting these garments for children and blessing them after the morning Mass on December 8; the clothes were then destined for the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem.
The blessing and the lighting of the Luminaria, which took place at noon on Christmas Eve, inaugurated a period of seven days and nights during which the lights of the Luminaria remained lit along the entire colonnade of the Franciscan Monastery, creating a captivating and evocative effect. This initiative, developed in collaboration with the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild for years, aims to remember and honor a departed loved one by lighting a candle that remains lit for a week.
The Closing Events
The Family Day, organized on Saturday, January 6, saw an unexpected turnout of families at the Franciscan Monastery. Many families braved the inclement weather to participate in this day dedicated to both young and old, commemorating Saint Francis of Assisi and the first nativity scene he created in Greccio 800 years ago. Parents and children visiting the Monastery for the first time enjoyed guided tours inside the church that houses the replica of the holy places. It was possible to recreate the context of Jesus’ nativity according to the Gospels by touring the church and showing faithful replicas of Nazareth, where the Annunciation took place, and Bethlehem, where His birth occurred.
The concert on Sunday, January 7, the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, concluded this time of celebration and remembrance that accompanied the friars of the Franciscan Monastery and its community. Paul Griffin and Adam Scott Graham, both organists and members of The Friends of the Monastery Choir, performed.
Family Day at the Franciscan Monastery – Saturday, January 6, 2024.