In the Holy Valley stands one of the four sanctuaries built by St. Francis on the territory of Rieti. The Sanctuary of Greccio is 700 meters high and was built in 1228. It is also known as: the ‘Francescan Bethlehem’. The reasons are to be found in the fact that in 1223, St. Francis decided to represent here a living nativity scene. It was the first Christmas nativity scene in history.
The Sanctuary of Greccio stands on a rock, this fact gives the birth to its name. An evocative scenery enriched by several finds of artistic and historical value sited inside the sanctuary. A visit to Greccio can also be combined with a tour of the other 3 Franciscan sanctuaries that are located nearby.
Greccio and the legend of Saint Francis
The Sanctuary of Greccio is located a few kilometers away from the homonymous medieval village of Greccio. A place that, as mentioned, is linked to a legendary passage of St. Francis of Assisi who came here to retire in prayer. According to legend, the Saint asked a child to throw a burning ember towards a mountain: the ember reached the end, where are the rocks on which today is located the sanctuary.
Greccio is also the country where the first nativity scene was born in the world, by the will of Saint Francis; a tradition that is repeated every year on the occasion of Christmas and which makes the visit to the sanctuary particularly evocative in those months.
The mountain on which it is thought St. Francis came here to retire in prayer bears his name from 1712 (Monte San Francesco) and here was built a chapel dedicated to the Saint.
The Christmas Nativity Chapel
Inside the Sanctuary of Greccio there is a place of prayer and spiritual retire known as the Cappella del Presepe: a small cave where the nativity was re-enacted in 1223. The rock is still present today, under the canteen, which according to tradition served to host the baby Jesus in the course of that representation. In the chapel there are also several frescoes that represent the Nativity.
Around Greccio there are many other places of interest, especially the 3 shrines always wanted by San Francesco: the Convent Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone, the Sanctuary of Fonte Colombo and that of Santa Maria della Foresta. All places to visit during a guided tour at the Sanctuary of Greccio.