Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – Christmas Cribs

nativity sceneArticle

The pious custom of celebrating our Lord’s birth by a tableau made up of the Divine Infant, the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, the ox, ass, stall, the shepherds and flocks, angels, Magi, etc., now common in so many countries, was originated by Saint Francis of Assisi. He obtained in the year 1223 from a friend of his, John Veleta, lord of the village of Grecio near Rieti in Italy, the necessary materials to make such a representation. Then the saint went to work with his brethren, and they soon brought the scene into shape, having the loan, too, of a live ox and ass, which kind of animals a tradition founded upon a passage of the prophecy of Isaias 1:3 says were present at the stable at Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and warmed him with their breath. A midnight Mass was sung, Saint Francis acting as deacon, while the friars and peasants knelt or stood around under the trees, from whose branches were suspended a number of lamps that shed a dim and religious light upon the assemblage.

The most beautiful crib of this description in the United States was made a few years ago at Rome for the college of the Jesuits in San Francisco, California. It cost many thousands of dollars, and was exhibited privately in the scene-room of the Teatro Argentina before being packed for America. Some of the cribs in the churches of Rome at Christmas time are magnificent, the figures being often life-size, and all the surroundings (which occupy a whole side chapel) artistically prepared on a scale of princely magnificence. The one in the Church of Ara Coeli on the Capitol Hill is perhaps the finest in point of size and execution; but the most charming one is on the top of the ancient feudal tower in Trastevere, once belonging to the family of the counts of Anguillara, and situated in the neighborhood of the first Franciscan convent and church (now San Francesco a ripa) in Rome, of which Rudolph, Count of Arg, was a distinguished benefactor in 1231. The peculiar attractions of this crib are its natural and rustic appearance, and the various perspectives and views towards the mountain and over the Campagna in every direction, arranged to suit the different scenes of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, the Infant laid in the manger, the shepherds tending their flocks by night, the angels appearing to them, the distant but approach ing Wise Men from the East, etc. On Epiphany day some of the figures are usually changed to suit the arrival and offerings of the Magians and their suite. When the octave ceases, everything is removed.

MLA Citation

  • “Christmas Cribs”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1875. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 January 2017. Web. 29 July 2017. <>