On July 14, 2023, the Conventual Franciscans of Cracow launched an exhibition of Cracow’s world-famous nativity scenes. The event took place to mark the upcoming 800th anniversary of the first living nativity scene created by St. Francis of Assisi.
“We are showing forty works created by twenty significant artists from Cracow,” said the event organizer, Marek MARKOWSKI. Mr. MARKOWSKI creates nativity scenes himself and is a recipient of the Medal for Merit to the Culture of Poland. He explained further: “Almost all of the nativity scenes on display have won annual competitions. The works on exhibition range from miniature nativity scenes, measuring a few centimeters, to large nativity scenes, including the tallest ever—measuring five meters (sixteen feet) in height.”
The exhibition is complemented by a dozen groups of nativity figurines made in different countries. They show how the custom of building nativity scenes, popularized by Franciscans, has taken different forms around the world. It is hoped that by opening this exhibition during the height of the tourist season, more visitors will be able to see Cracow’s masterpieces. The goal of the exhibition is to commemorate the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’ creation of the nativity scene in Greccio, Italy, in 1223.
Five years ago, Cracow’s nativity scenes were inscribed on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity as the first tradition from Poland and as the world’s first handcrafted nativity scenes.
In addition to their important representations of Christmas, the Cracow nativity scenes include architectural elements that show recognizable buildings in Cracow as well as historical and legendary characters related to the city itself. The nativity scenes often depict important events in the history of Poland.
This exhibition is part of the cycle of celebrations for the 2023-26 Franciscan Centenary. The Centenary was inaugurated in early 2023, in Greccio, by the Ministers General of the Franciscan Family. The celebrations commemorate some special events the last years of St. Francis’ life, namely, the approval of the Later Rule, the Christmas at Greccio, the Stigmata, the Canticle of the Creatures and the death of St. Francis in 1226.
The exhibition can be viewed until the end of August 2023, in the Blessed James Hall of the friary in Cracow, located at Franciszkańska Street 4 (entrance on the Planty Park side).
Friar Jan M. SZEWEK