The earliest known Nativity scenes date to ancient Rome and consist of murals painted on underground cemetery walls. During the Middle Ages, because many in their congregations could not read, priests interpreted the Bible through literal representations, using figures.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with dramatizing the birth of Jesus Christ in 1223 when he celebrated Christ’s Mass in front of a hay-filled manger with live animals in Greccio, Italy.
The Christmas crib scene eventually spread throughout Europe. In France, the Nativity was called crèche or cradle; in Italy, praesepe or manger; in Germany, the krippe or crib; in Spain, nacimiento or Nativity scene.
Nativity scenes underwent changes during the Renaissance as wise men were added along with elaborate backdrops. To this day, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by displaying Nativity scenes at churches and in their homes.