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A celebration 800 years in the making


It is 800 years since St Francis of Assisi made the first Christmas crib in the Italian village of Greccio.

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Wanting the people to know how much God loved them, St Francis of Assisi and his brothers put together an ox, a donkey, some smaller animals and some bright golden straw around a small altar in a cave.

St Francis hoped people would see themselves in the Christmas scene and experience the humility of Jesus at Bethlehem. It was documented at the time that during Midnight Mass baby Jesus appeared in the straw.  The tradition of Christmas cribs has continued to this day.

Nowhere is that more obvious than at the St Francis of Assisi Church in Newton where a collection of nativity scenes from different parts of the world were on display on the Second Sunday of Advent (December 10), thanks to the efforts of members of the Newton fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS).

Maria Iadanza shows the crib collection to Lucy, Clara, Max and his sister Chloe.

Maria Iadanza, who is the OFS national minister, said she got involved simply, and perhaps not surprisingly, because she liked nativity scenes.

In the past, she had worked with migrants and refugees and it had been fascinating to learn from them how they celebrated their special feasts including Christmas, and it “just went from there”.

That work with people from different parts of the world had shaped some of the work done on the cribs, to make them more than just what would be considered a typical nativity scene.

“If you look at the Vietnamese one, for instance, you will see differences. With some it might just be the way they dress, but whatever the difference is, it is a reminder to us all that while we may come from different parts of the world, we all have this in common,” Maria said.

“When St Francis started this, he wanted to experience what it would have been like in Jesus’ time.”

Fellow Secular Franciscan Lorraine Hurrell put together one of the centrepieces of the display, a copy of the historical version of the crib at Greccio.

Lorraine said while some of it had to be guesswork, it was based on the writings of witnesses at the time.

“Like the original, I had the straw around the altar, and, of course, the animals. I’m not sure about the lace top I’ve put on there, whether or not they had them in those days,” Lorraine said.

The main reason for the display of the nativity scenes at St Francis of Assisi Church was to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the miracle of Greccio in 1223 but Lorraine said it also was an opportunity to promote the Franciscan spirituality and the vocation of the OFS.

Established in 1958 by Archbishop Matthew Beovich, the Newton OFS fraternity meets on the third Sunday of each month for prayer, reflection, formation and friendship. For details, contact the parish on 8337 3849.

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