“The tradition of having a Nativity scene or crèche was made popular by St. Francis of Assisi. It is a reproduction of the cave in Bethlehem, with Mary, Joseph, the Infant Jesus in a manger, shepherds, angels and animals,” according to EWTN.com.
Another article at EWTN.com relates how St. Francis asked Pope Innocent for permission to set up a Nativity scene in 1223.
According to St. Bonaventure: “Many brothers and good people came at Francis’ bidding, and during the night, the weather also was beautiful. Many lights were kindled, songs and hymns were sung with great solemnity so that the whole wood echoed with the sound, and the man of God stood by the manger, filled with the utmost joy and shedding tears of devotion and compassion.
“By his order the manger had been so arranged that Mass was celebrated on it, and blessed Francis, the Levite of Christ, sang the Gospel and preached to the people on the Nativity of Christ our King; and whenever he pronounced his name with infinite tenderness, he called him the ‘little Babe of Bethlehem.’”
St. Bonaventure’s account continued: “Nor was this vision untrue, for, by the grace of God, through his servant blessed Francis, Christ was awakened in many hearts where formerly he slept.”
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