Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), The Nativity, Italian, late 1550s (reworked, 1570s) Nativity scenes may not be historically accurate, but we love them; the scenes featuring Mary and Joseph, three wise men, shephards, donkeys, and farmyard friends gathering round the open stable with the baby Jesus. This “modern” version of the Nativity that we have today was started by St Francis of Assisi in 1223. “St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about ‘the babe of Bethlehem.’ (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say ‘Jesus.’) Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.” (St. Bonaventure, The Life of St Francis of Assisi) Later scenes began incorporating dioramas and life actors, and the cast of characters gradually expanded beyond Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, to include an entire village. Some of you know that the familiar cast of characters in today’s creche —the three wise men and the shepherds—is not biblically accurate. In the New Testament Gospels, only Matthew and Luke describe Jesus’ birth. Matthew includes wise men, while Luke notes shepherds. But nowhere in the Bible do shepherds and wise men appear together. And to take all the fun right out of our holiday petting zoo, no one anywhere in the Bible mentions donkeys, oxen, cattle, or other farmyard friends in conjunction with Jesus’ birth. But what would a nativity scene be without them? Luckily for us, the holy folks did wear fluffy angel wings, terry cloth robes, and slippers. Below are nativity scene paintings before and after our “modern” version. Unknown Master, Nativity Scene in Castelseprio (9th century)Unknown Master, Nativity Scene in Cappello Palatina Palermo (1150)On break from directing his Nativity play, St Francis sings “Tuppins” to his feathered friends (Painting by Giotto 1276-1337)Giotto di Bondone, Nativity Scene in the Lower Church of San Francesco d’Assisi (1304 und 1306)Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (1308-11)Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi (1423)Rogier van der Weyden, Bladelin Triptych (1445-48)Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Nativity (1460)Piero della Francesca, Nativity (1470-75)Hugo van der Goes, Portinari Altarpiece (c.1475)Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Birth of Jesus (1484-90)Lorenzo Costa, Nativity (1490)Sandro Botticelli, The Mystical Nativity (1500-1501)Jan Gossaert, The Adoration of the Kings (1510-15)Albrecht Altdorfer, Nativity (c.1513)Matthias Grünewald, Concert of Angels and Nativity (1515)Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Anbetung der Heiligen drei Könige (1564)El Greco, The Nativity (1603-05)Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco (1609)Georges de La Tour, L’adoration des bergers (c.1645)Rembrandt, Adoration of the Shepherds (1646)Nicholas Poussin, Nativité (c.1653)Arthur Hughes, Nativity (1857-58) Have a safe and happy holiday, everyone!