After spending more than 1,000 years in Rome, a wooden fragment valued by Catholics as part of the crib in which Jesus was born will be welcomed back to the Holy Land on Friday.
The fragment, part of a relic stored in the Italian capital’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, was described by the Custody of the Holy Land, run by Franciscan friars, as a “gift” from Pope Francis.
“It has contributed for centuries to marking the religiousness of the faithful in Rome and from elsewhere,” the custodians wrote, saying that large numbers of pilgrims from around the world went there to worship it.
The fragment will first stop in Jerusalem on Friday morning, where celebrations including a Mass and procession are planned.
It will then move to Bethlehem, traditionally known as Jesus’ birthplace, on Saturday, ahead of the start of the Advent season.
The so-called Holy Crib relic will be put on permanent display in the Franciscan Church of St Catherine, next to the Basilica of the Nativity, for pilgrims coming to the Palestinian city to worship.
According to the Custody of the Holy Land, the so-called Holy Crib relic was donated by St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to Pope Theodore I around the middle of the seventh century.