Anne's Blog

Assisi’s Christmas Tree: Norcia Solidarity – and Not Only

Date: December 10, 2016 - categories: , , , - 2 Comments

Assisi’s towering Christmas tree, rising tall outside the entrance to the lower level of the Basilica di San Franceso, is dedicated to all the victims of the central Italy 2016 earthquakes and comes from the Valnerina this year, that southeastern Umbrian mountain area walloped by the Ocotber 30, 2016 earthquake. The tree is here not without consternation: as an old man from Norcia grumbled, “Seems to me that the assisani should be bringing Christmas to us – not the year for us to bring to them…..” The erecting, lighting and decorating of the 40-meter tree, this solidarity link to earthquake-devastated areas, was all offered by the region of Piedmont (which this year brought the oil to the Tomb of St. Francis on October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis).


This year, Assisi’s Christmas Tree – of solidarity – is from the mountainous Valnerina area


Five trees will be planted by the Umbria Forestry Service in the spot where the tree was cut. The crib scene at the base of the tree is a solidarity gesture of poetical simplicity: just the figures of Mary and Joseph, an empty (for now) crib, backed by marble sculptural relief fragments from the Basilica di San Benedetto di Norcia, devastated in the October 30, 2016 earthquake. At the foot of the crib is a black and yellow helmet of the vigili del fuoco, the Italian fire department, central rescue force during national disasters.


Under the Tree, a crib scene in the midst of marble fragments of the devastated Basilica di San Benedetto, Norcia: poetical simplicity (Photo thanks to Fr. Martin Breschi, OFM)

The morning that Australian tour guests and I saw the crib scene, Sergio Fusetti, Assisi fresco restorer, was re-arranging the pieces, placing the Crib on top of the helmet.


From Australia to take in the Assisi Christmas tree…


Sergio Fusetti puts the Crib on the fire department helmet


A new place for the Crib

Backdropping the simple crib scene of Norcia Basilica fragments are reproductions of the 1997 Assisi Basilica earthquake devastation, the Basilica of San Benedetto, Norcia 2016 devastation – and a reproduction of a Giotto fresco inside the Basilica of St. Francis depicting a collapsing Assisi building (1300).


Poignant scenes of past earthquakes backdrop the crib scene
(Thanks, Fr. Martin Breschi, OFM for the photo!)

Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi – September 26, 1997



Basilica di San Benedetto di Norcia – October 30, 2016




Fresco attributed to the school of Giotto, Lower Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi (about 1300)

As the Tree was lit on December 8th, Father Mauro Gambetti, OFM, head of the Assisi Franciscan monastery, offered a simple solidarity message: “May the recent earthquakes, like every crisis of the spirit, become the means to live the bewildering, baffling and fascinating discovery of true encounter with others. May this Christmas be the birth inside each of us of a new life, a life directed towards others.”


The mayors of Norcia, Assisi and Bethelehem (Assisi sister city) were all together at the inaugural lighting of the Tree on December 8th. Head of the Franciscan Press Office, Padre Enzo Fortunato, zeroed in on the significance of the united trio: “Under our Christmas Tree, we wish to light up, too, the hopes of men and women moving forward to overcome the sufferings linked to natural calamaties and the drama of war. May these three mayors give voice to this hope.”

Padre Enzo’s words linked to last year’s Assisi “ Christmas Tree of Solidarity”, dedicated the immigrants fleeing war and poverty: the crib scene was set up in the battered fishing boat which had brought nine people safely from Libya to the island of Lampedusa, frequent refugee entry point, southernmost tip of Europe and closer to Africa than to Sicily. That boat is now in front of the Basilica di San Francesco, a reminder to us all of the tragic immigrant plight.

The 2015 Assisi Christmas Tree, with crib scene in the immigrant boat



This December 8th, gifts were distributed to Assisi area needy families who mingled under the Tree with sixty earthquake homeless from Norcia and refugees now given shelter in the Assisi Diocesan center. ….and so, those overcoming “the sufferings linked to natural calamaties and the drama of war” united under the Assisi Christmas tree. Once again, a Tree of Solidarity.




Mille grazie, Fr. Martin Breschi, OFM, for your photo.

Read about Piedmont’s homage to St. Francis, October 4, 2016
Read more on Norcia earthquake solidarity
Read about Norcia – and earthquake damage
Read about Norcia..and a past visit to la norcineria
See the recipe for pasta alla norcina (a possible earthquake-benefit dish)
Click here for news on the Benedictine monks of Norcia
Read about Castelluccio di Norcia and lentils as quake solidarity
Read about earthquake damage in nearby Castelluccio
Read about Castelluccio and the famous lentils
Read about Castelluccio majesty
Read about the curious history of Preci (near Oct 30 2016 quake epicenter) – and earthquake damage
Click here for news on the glorious Benedictine abbey of Sant’Eutizio (outside Preci)
Read about the earthquake trauma  of missing cemetery visits on November 2nd
Click here to read about the August 24, 2016 earthquake damage in Umbria
Read about earthquake benefit dinners
Read more on the benefit dinners following the earthquake
Click here for news on our benefit dinner starring pasta all’amatriciana
Read about – and see – damage to Visso
Read about San Salvatore, near Norcia, lost: che tragedia
Read about Christmas simplicity in Assisi
Read about the Italian Epiphany tradition
Read about an astounding Naples Christmas tradition
Click here to read about the Assisi Christmas concert
Read about a memorable Assisi Christmas concert
Read about Assisi rooftop art – and Christmas traditions


  • Judy Thomas says:

    Such beauty and tragedy. The beauty of solidarity is that it might help lessen the sting. I can’t wait to spend my own Christmas in Assisi with that kind of feeling…..

  • Peggy Ocken says:

    It is heartwarming that people are coming together in the midst of such loss and destruction- earthquakes & wars. Our prayers continue for them all. Peace to all!

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