Kolkata: The Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee will inaugurate a special exhibition on the various pictures of St. Francis of Assisi – the Patron Saint of Environment and the originator of the tradition of cribs – on Christmas eve. These pictorial displays, conceptualised by Church Art, would be installed in the Cathedral premises to inspire and motivate people to love and protect Mother Earth.
“This year, as Christians heed to the call of green Christmas, tradition recalls a Catholic saint who returned to nature by promoting “presepio vivente” – a living crib. A crib, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The origin of the Christmas Crib or Manger or Nativity scene is often first ascribed to Saint Francis of Assisi, who, in 1223 AD, celebrated the `Feast of the Nativity’ in a new way that led to a new devotional practice popular even today,” said Fr Franklin Menzes, Parish Priest of The Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary, Burrabazar. The Cathedral was founded on 1799.
“Nativity scenes exhibit figures representing the infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Joseph. Other characters from the nativity story such as shepherds, the Magi, and angels may be displayed near the manger. Distinctive nativity scenes and traditions have been created around the world and are displayed during the Christmas season in churches, homes, shopping malls, and other venues, and occasionally on public places and in public buildings,” said Fr Dominic Gomes, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Calcutta.
The Vatican has displayed a scene in St. Peter’s Square near its Christmas tree since 1982 and the Pope has for many years blessed the mangers of children assembled in St. Peter’s Square for a special ceremony. In 2015, the first ever crib set depicting Jesus’ birth from India, designed by Kolkata-based organization Church Art, was added to the International Nativity Museum of Bethlehem’s collection of 223 nativity representations from over 93 countries.
The International Nativity Museum in Bethlehem, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is currently located close to the Church of Bethlehem which is considered to be the spot where Jesus was born. Local lore passed down from ancient times holds that the three travelers or Magi who were guided by a star had passed through this path where the International Nativity Museum now stands.
History tells us that St. Francis of Assisi was inspired by his visit to the Holy Land in 1219 where he had been shown Jesus’s traditional birthplace. It was in 1223 that the first crèche was celebrated in the woods of Greccio near Assisi, on Christmas Eve.
It is reported that Francis commissioned a local holy man by the name Giovanni (John) Velitta, about two weeks before Christmas to enact the memory of the Infant who was born at Bethlehem and how He was bedded in the manger on hay between a donkey and an ox. The good and faithful Giovanni departed quickly and prepared everything. The crib was ready, hay was brought, the ox and the donkey were led to the spot. Greccio became a new Bethlehem. The crowds gathered and rejoiced in the celebration.
As the villagers and friars crowded around, a priest began the Mass. Francis sang the Gospel in a sonorous voice and preached to the people who had bought candles and torches to brighten the night.
St. Francis’ idea of bringing Bethlehem into one’s own town spread quickly all over the Christian world, and soon after death of Francis in 1226 there were Christmas cribs in churches and homes. The home crib became popular in Catholic Europe after 1600, owing, it is said, to the efforts of the Capuchins.