In the year 1223, St. Francis of Assisi introduced a living crib scene at his Christmas Eve Mass in the village of Grecchio, Italy. He wanted to inspire greater religious feelings, and help in the interpretation of the story of the birth of Jesus. News of this live nativity scene spread and people began putting crib figures in their local churches, and then in their homes. From Italy the custom of displaying a Nativity Scene spread.
There are events and stories which surround the Nativity of Christ. Some are accepted as the Gospel truths while others are considered dubious (yet interesting to read) in the sense that they may have been subjected to later embellishments in the course of storytelling and translating; or simply that there were story fragments which did not give a full enough text such as the Gospel of St Peter to make them worth keeping in the New Testament. Two main gospels, (the Infant Narratives), contain accounts of the Nativity. The oldest is from the protoevangelium of St James. The Eastern Christian Church accepts many of these stories as part of the Old Liturgy of the Nativity. Many Western Christians have put them in the 'appocryphal gospels' which are legendary stories based on a true event.
Until The Norman invasion of Britain, Christian imagery tended to be very Byzantine, (characterized by formality of design, frontal stylized presentation of figures, rich use of color especially gold), in style, and the stories in the Nativity Cycle were often painted onto church walls as a visual aid to largely illiterate congregations. The Normans, with the blessing of Rome, set about destroying these images by painting over them, because they were “Not Western,” and a new order was evolved. However, as they covered all the old picture-stories with Limewash, they were actually being preserved rather than destroyed. Today many restored churches in England have this wonderful old witness to the early stories of Christ's nativity for all to see.
Today, there are hundreds upon hundreds of styles and materials used to make Nativity Scenes. From fine Italian marbles, full-sized wax museum pieces, ornate sculptured Teak wood, to even kindergarten-produced tissue rolls with glued Styrofoam balls - all representing the miracle of the birth and adoration of Jesus Christ. Click here to view famous Nativity Paintings