Vatican Nativity scene to honor 800th anniversary of St. Francis' creche

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi setting up the first Nativity scene, the creche in St. Peter's Square in 2023 will come from the Diocese of Rieti, Italy, and pay tribute to the scene set up in the diocese in 1223.

St. Francis' Nativity scene in a cave in Greccio featured live animals, but the one set to be unveiled in St. Peter's Square Dec. 9 will not, according to a press release from the Vatican City State governor's office.

But the scene still will be very simple: Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, some shepherds and figures representing the nobleman Giovanni Velita, his wife Alticama, and three Franciscan friars who, at St. Francis' behest, put a hay-filled manger, an ox and a donkey in a grotto where the local faithful could come to pray and to imagine the poverty and simplicity into which Jesus was born.

At the center of the scene, the governor's office said Oct. 30, there will be a copy of the fresco that now decorates that grotto in Greccio. One half shows St. Francis kneeling in adoration of the baby Jesus while Franciscan friars celebrate Mass; the other half shows Mary feeding the newborn savior while St. Joseph, the ox and the donkey look on.

The Diocese of Rieti also is providing a Nativity scene for the Paul VI Audience Hall, the press release said. It will be made of blown glass and will feature both St. Francis and St. Clare.

The Christmas tree that will stand in St. Peter's Square is expected to be more than 80 feet tall and come from the Maira Valley near Turin. It will be decorated with live edelweiss flowers cultivated at a nursery nearby; picking or transplanting wild edelweiss is against the law in Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

The unveiling of the creche and lighting of the Christmas tree in the square is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 9. They will remain in the square through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 7, 2024.