Gracio is a small village in Lazio in the province of Rieti famous as the place where, in 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi founded the first birth scene in history.
The village is perched on a rock that rises majestically above the plain below and was founded in the first half of the 11th century on the ashes of – most likely – a Greek settler called “Curtis de Greze” from whom it inherited its current name. .
It was here, in 1209, that a man from Assisi arrived young Francesco looking for a place to find peace and spiritual peace, in love with the quiet that surrounded the village and the wonderful panorama that can still be admired from its view of the valley.
Saint Francis lived in this village for a long time and right here and near it founded 4 sanctuaries: Greccio, Fonte Colombo, Poggio Bustone and La Foresta.
These are 4 very important places for the religious community, so much so that they have become the so-called “Sacred Valley”.
The first manger in history
In love, as mentioned, with Greccio, its places and its inhabitants, Saint Francis decided to give life, precisely in this village, to one of the most important traditions of Christianity: the manger.
He was assisted in the undertaking – in addition to the village population and its monks – by a local nobleman, one Giovanni Velita.
It was right in occasion of Christmas 1223 that Gretzio saw the light of the first living manger in the world, with great participation of the community and satisfaction on the part of the Saint.
Events planned for Christmas 2023
And this year, Greccio remembers that distant and unforgettable Christmas Eve with an event commemorating the event: in 2023, 800 years will be celebrated.
From early December 2023 until Epiphany in 2024, the small village – also twinned with Bethlehem – is filled with displays and exhibitions themed around the Nativity scene.
In Greccio, in any case, the tradition of the manger is perfectly preserved throughout the year and the spirit of Francesco is felt in every small street of the city.
In fact, you can observe frescoes with episodes from his life that decorate the houses of the village and you can also visit a museum with a rich collection of nativity scenes from all over the world, built inside an old church from the 1400s.
Even if it is during the Christmas season that the spirit of the manger is evoked in an even more intense way and if the Christmas market we were talking about before is set up in the central square of Greccio, it is in the square below the Sanctuary that the evocative representation of nativity scene is staged live recited by the population, dressed in period clothes.
Dates and times 2023
- 8 December – 5.45pm
- 24 December – 10.30 pm
- 26 December – 17.45
- 28 December – 17.45
- 30 December – 17.45
- 1 January – 5.45pm
- 5 January – 5.45pm
- 6th January – 5.45pm
- 7th January – 5.45pm
What to see in Greccio
Not only nativity scenes, the village of Rieti also offers visitors other interesting attractions. Its typically medieval architecture is visible in the narrow streets that climb along the slopes that characterize Greccio in its historic center.
At the highest point of the city is the church of S. Michele Arcangelo, decorated with valuable sixteenth-century paintings and plasterboards attributed to Gregorio Grimani, created in 1636 when the chapel was built.
In addition, in the narrow alleys of Greccio and in the squares, there is the “Path of the Artists”: a guided tour that crosses the entire historic center through 26 frescoes on the life of Saint Francis.
The real gem of Greccio, however, remains the Franciscan sanctuary, just a few minutes from the center of the village. The Sanctuary still preserves the intact cave where the first nativity scene was erected and is the oldest among the Franciscans.
It represents a unicum not only in Italy, but in the whole of Europe, due to its historical, artistic as well as cultural and religious importance.
In addition to the numerous architectural jewels, the Sanctuary preserves priceless art treasures and, in the most modern wing, houses many precious nativity scenes and other objects used daily by Saint Francis.