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Franciscans celebrate 800 years since the first nativity crib


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Franciscans celebrate 800 years since the first nativity crib Franciscans celebrate 800 years since the first nativity crib


The nativity crib is a staple of the festive season in many Irish parishes and homes. Apart from the Christmas tree, a crib depicting the birth of Jesus Christ would be considered a must for those wanting to ‘deck the halls’.

Despite this, many would probably have to consult the internet if quizzed about the origins of nativity and Christmas itself.

This is what the Franciscan brothers on St Francis Street are aiming to shed light on with their Cribs in The Abbey event, which was officially opened to the public last Friday evening. The event will mark the 800th anniversary of the first nativity crib, created by St Francis of Assisi in Italy.

The organiser of this special occasion, Brother Ronan Sharpley, says that it’s important to acknowledge the work of St Francis in making the traditional nativity and Christmas what it is today.

“Back when St Francis came up with the idea to celebrate Jesus’ birth, Christmas wasn’t celebrated near as much as Easter. It was historically noted and widely celebrated that Jesus resurrected on Easter Sunday, but why wasn’t his birth celebrated? This inspired him to make the first nativity scene in Greccio, Italy.”

The cribs being displayed in the aptly named Greccio Chapel in the Abbey have taken inspiration from traditional Neapolitan cribs that focus more on the scene surrounding the nativity by including tradesmen, farmers and workers. When Brother Ronan travelled to Italy to study Theology, he was captivated by the unique cribs he found there.

“I saw these huge cribs in Italy, and I thought they were really cool. I remember the first time I went into this massive shopping mall and in the middle of the aisle they had a crib set up that was the size of this room I’d say, with a train going around and a volcano in the middle. I bought come cribs and pieces of cribs while I was out there to add to the display.”

Brother Ronan, who also helps run a group called Youth Franciscans Galway, believes this event will capture the imagination of younger people and provide a more engaging way to learn about the meaning behind Christmas.

“The display tables are deliberately lower in height so that when kids come in here, they can easily see everything on display. The idea is for kids come and imagine themselves in the scene and that’s exactly what Francis wanted people to do.”

The display of cribs in Galway includes many different designs, from farmyards and traditional mangers to a fully-handmade depiction of a warzone, which Ronan believes serves as a reminder about what is going on in other parts of the world.

“This one here is fitting with all that’s going on at the minute, you know, it was more Ukraine at the time that inspired us when we started thinking about ideas for cribs. You can see the houses are sort of burned down and somewhere there, Christ will be born behind or near a ruined building. I think it shows that Christ is in the middle of that as well, no matter how bad things are, he’s still there.”

The Greccio Chapel will be open for visitors every weekend up until 8 January from 11am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. All donations from the display will go towards Franciscan humanitarian work in Israel.

Pictured: The Neapolitan crib at the Greccio Chapel at the Franciscan Abbey on St Francis Street in the city. PHOTO: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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