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THE MANGER FRANCIS MADE IN CELEBRATION OF THE LORD’S BIRTHDAY
His highest aim, foremost desire, and greatest proposal was
to pay heed to the holy gospel in all things and through all things,
to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ
and to retrace His footsteps completely
with all vigilance and all zeal,
all the desire of his soul
and all the fervor of his heart.
Francis used to recall with regular meditation the words of Christ
and recollect His deeds with most attentive perception.
Indeed, so thoroughly did the humility of the Incarnation
and the charity of the Passion
occupy his memory
that he scarcely wanted to think of anything else.
We should note then, as matter worthy of memory and something
to be recalled with reverence, what he did, three years
prior to his death, at the town of Greccio, on the birthday
of our Lord Jesus Christ. There was a certain man in that
area named John who had a good reputation but an even better
manner of life. Blessed Francis loved him with special affection,
since, despite being a noble in the land and very honored
in human society, he had trampled the nobility of the flesh
under his feet and pursued instead the nobility of the spirit.
As usual, blessed Francis had John summoned to him some
fifteen days prior to the birthday of the Lord. “If you desire
to celebrate the coming feast of the Lord together
at Greccio,” he said to him, “hurry before me and carefully
make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the
memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see
as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort
of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how,
with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.” Once the
good and faithful man had heard Francis’s words, he ran quickly
and prepared in that place all the things that the holy man
Finally, the day of joy has drawn near,
the time of exultation has come.
From many different places the brethren have been called.
As they could,
the men and women of that land with exultant hearts
prepare candles and torches to light up that night
whose shining star has enlightened every day and year.
Finally, the holy man of God comes
and, finding all things prepared,
he saw them and was glad.
Indeed, the manger is prepared,
the hay is carried in,
and the ox and the ass are led to the spot.
There simplicity is given a place of honor,
poverty is exalted,
humility is commended,
and out of Greccio is made a new Bethlehem.
The night is lit up like day,
delighting both man and beast.
The people arrive, ecstatic at this new mystery of new joy.
The forest amplifies the cries
and the boulders echo back the joyful crowd.
The brothers sing, giving God due praise,
and the whole night abounds with jubilation.
The holy man of God stands before the manger,
filled with heartfelt sighs,
contrite in his piety,
and overcome with wondrous joy.
Over the manger the solemnities of the Mass are celebrated
and the priest enjoys a new consolation.
The holy man of God is dressed in the vestments of the Levites,
since he was a Levite, and with full voice sings the holy
Here is his voice: a powerful voice, a pleasant
voice, a clear voice, a musical voice, inviting all to the
highest of gifts. Then he preaches to the people standing
around him and pours forth sweet honey about the birth of
the poor King and the poor city of Bethlehem. Moreover,
burning with excessive love, he often calls Christ the “babe
from Bethlehem” whenever he means to call Him Jesus. Saying
the word “Bethlehem” in the manner of a bleating sheep,
he fills his whole mouth with sound but even more with sweet
affection. He seems to lick his lips whenever he uses the
expressions “Jesus” or “babe from Bethlehem,” tasting the
word on his happy palate and savoring the sweetness of the
word. The gifts of the Almighty are multiplied there and
a virtuous man sees a wondrous vision.†c For the man saw a
little child lying lifeless in the manger and he saw the
holy man of God approach the child and waken him from a
deep sleep. Nor is this vision unfitting, since in the hearts
of many the child Jesus has been given over to oblivion.
Now he is awakened and impressed on their loving memory
by His own grace through His holy servant Francis. At length,
the night’s solemnities draw to a close and everyone went
home with joy.
The hay placed in the manger there was preserved afterwards
so that, through it, the Lord might restore to health the
pack animals and the other animals there, as He multiplied
his holy mercy. It came to pass in the surrounding area
that many of the animals, suffering from various diseases,
were freed from their illnesses when they ate some of this
hay. What is more, women who had been suffering with long
and hard labor had an easy delivery after they placed some
of this hay upon themselves. Finally, an entire group of people of both sexes
obtained much-desired relief from an assortment of afflictions.
At last, the site of the manger was consecrated as a temple
to the Lord. In honor of the most blessed father Francis,
an altar was constructed over the manger, and a church was
This was done
so that where animals once ate the fodder of the hay,
there humans henceforth
for healing of body and soul
would eat the flesh
of the immaculate and spotless lamb,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
who gave Himself for us
with supreme and indescribable love,
who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God,
eternally glorious forever and ever.
Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano 30 (https://www.franciscantradition.org/early-sources).