This collection of Italian postage stamps was emailed to me by Marina. She heard about the St. Francis Mail Art Project through Swap-Bot.
With Christmas only a few months away, it's worth remembering that St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and founder of the Franciscan Order (clerics for the masses rather than for the aristocrats), is said to have been the first to depict a Nativity Scene (creche, crèche) in Greccio, Italy, around 1223 AD — using life-size wooden figures of Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the shepherds.
The word "creche" comes from the French word for "manger," which in turn comes from the Italian word "Greccio", the name of the town having the first nativity manger scene.
Less than two years after St. Francis' death, plans were underway for the construction of a church in his honor which is now known as the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. A doorway in the right transept of the lower church opens into the 13th-century chapter house, which contains a 1340 Crucifixion by Puccio Capanna and a magnificent collection of relics associated with St. Francis. The relics on display include:
- moth-eaten, patchwork grey tunic worn by St. Francis
- white tunic worn during the last year of his life
- hairshirt worn by St. Francis for penance
- strip of leather chamois that wrapped the stigmata wound in his side
- sandals made by St. Clare and worn by St. Francis when he was sick
- linen cloths given by a noble lady in Rome and used to wipe the saint's brow on his deathbed
- chalice used by St. Francis when he assisted in the Eucharist as a deacon
- ivory horn given to Francis from the Sultan of Egypt, Malek el Kamel
- the original Franciscan Rule of 1223 approved by Pope Honorius III, which marked the founding of the Franciscan order
- Blessing to Brother Leo written in St. Francis' own hand
The town of Assisi, in the center of Italy was built on a hill that has been inhabited for about 4,000 years, and for almost as long it has been a religious center. They say that the stones that were used to build Assisi have absorbed the prayers of the millions of pilgrims that have come there over the centuries. And now, it is believed that the stones radiate a sense of peace and quiet that has a spiritual effect on visitors.