It is St Francis who is credited with having invented the Christmas crib scene. On the last Christmas before he died, with a few of his friends, Francis transformed a cave in the mountain town of Greccio in Italy into a living crib.
Straw was scattered on the floor of the cave and a manger put in place. An ox and a donkey were tethered to a wall.
About an hour before midnight on Christmas Eve, townsfolk came to the cave to be with St Francis as they celebrated the first Mass of Christmas. Francis had set up an altar in the cave so that the priest could say Mass for him and his friends there.
One account says that at the end of the homily, a gold light filled the congregation. They saw Francis reach into an empty manger and lift out a child, and holding him in his arms he said to the assembled people: ‘Behold the saviour of the world.’
Pope Leo the Great once wrote that no one should feel excluded from the celebration of Christmas. Jesus is born for all of us; ‘he has come to free us all.’