For years I have “meant to” visit Greccio.
My luck changed when my youngest son joined the track team in nearby Rieti, about 16 kilometers from this tiny town. Since we are often in Rieti for races, and since this last visit coincided with sunny skies, I finally got my wish post-race.
Greccio is a picturesque, medieval hilltown in northern Lazio, at the edge of the Sabini Mountains that are part of the Apennines. Greccio is twinned with Israel’s Bethlehem.
The drive up was lovely, through dense oak forests. Not surprisingly, it is a mecca for hikers, and there are plenty of picturesque trails to keep you busy. We’ll be back for a longer visit and some hiking on these trails.
Greccio gained its claim to fame in 1223, when St Francis of Assisi requested of (and received from) the Vatican permission to create the first live nativity scene.
St Francis had been to Bethlehem years earlier, and had visited the site of the manger where Jesus was born. Since Bethlehem was under the control of the Ottomans and unsafe for Christians to visit in those days, St Francis’ plans to recreate the manger scene was with a view to creating a new pilgrimage for the faithful.
St Francis selected a cave near Greccio, lay a baby on hay, alongside oxen and a donkey. People in the town arrived with torches and candles and St Francis gave the sermon.
Each year, the town has a reenactment of this original live nativity scene,a and following this tradition, Italy began to produce its artisanal nativity scenes (presepe, in Italian).
It was closed during our evening visit, but in town you can find a Museum of nativity scenes, with collections from all over the world.
The town is small, but picturesque and fun to explore. The town is built around the remains of the medieval castle, destroyed by Frederick II’s troops in 1242.
Three of the six eleventh century towers are still standing.
I am so pleased I finally made it to Greccio, and I look forward to returning armed with hiking boots to enjoy all those trails.