From Bethlehem with Love

The year was 1220, the place was Egypt, shortly after the siege of Damietta. A small nondescript looking man stood before the Sultan arrayed in all his regal finery. The nondescript man was St Francis of Assisi the Sultan was Melek-el-Kamel commander of the Islamic army. St Francis had moved the Sultan deeply, especially when he offered to walk into a fiery furnace with the Sultan’s Imam’s, as a trial by ordeal to prove whose religion was of God and whose was of man. The Imam’s refused, nor did the Sultan insist on the trial, because he felt sure that Francis would be proved right and his conversion to Christianity would, as he explained to Francis, lead to his own assassination. Instead he showered gifts on Francis which he refused, all save one, a passport granting him safe conduct to the holy places which were in enemy hands. When St Francis returned to Italy he built a crib at Greccio in the Rieti Valley in the Christmas of 1223, to fill his fellow county men with the joy he had experienced at Bethlehem. From that Christmas onwards the practice of making cribs at Christmas spread, not just all over Italy, but all over the world to remind the world of the truth that had so dumbfounded St Francis    read on......


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