Christmas takes on a special flavour in Greccio, the town where the tradition of the presepe (nativity scene) was born. Next to the Christmas markets where you can find the objects of the tradition of artistic craftsmanship and the food and wine delights of the territory, you can make a visit to the Museum of the Nativity.
If you think of thenativity scenes, the image immediately goes to the large mechanical cribs of the Neapolitan tradition, yet this tradition was born in Greccio in 1223 thanks to St. Francis who for the first time condensed the image of the nativity into statues.
The first representations of the birth of Jesus can already be seen in the Catacombs of Santa Priscilla in Rome and other images are present in many medieval works also by great artists. Yet the idea of the statues came to St. Francis who made the first nativity scene after asking permission from Pope Honorius III. Francesco had just returned from his trip to Palestine where he had visited the places of the Nativity and had also wanted to represent them for his faithful in Italy.
Thus was born the image of the ox and the donkey next to the little Jesus in the manger while Mary and Joseph arrived at a later date.
In the following centuries this custom spread in the churches of central Italy and Emilia while it arrived in the south of the Kingdom of Naples only in the sixteenth century.
From the seventeenth century on, the nativity scenes left the enclosure of the churches and also were found in private houses. Initially, they were knick-knacks that reproduced the chapels of the churches in miniature, then the great season of real reconstructions of whole scenes of everyday life began in the eighteenth century.
The presepis become an opportunity for competition between families for those who create the largest and the most imaginative with invisible mechanical devices that move statuettes and give life to ‘living’ scenes.
This story and many images can be found in the Museo del Presepe of Greccio.