The first nativity scene was created at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in 10th century Rome. The custom was soon popular at other churches, each one constructing ornate mangers with gold, silver, jewels and precious stones. Though popular among high society, such opulence was far removed from the original circumstances of Christ's birth, as well as being inaccessible to the poorer masses.
We owe the crèche to St. Francis of Assisi, who revised the gaudier displays of his time. In 1224, St. Francis of Assisi sought to remedy these problems by creating the first manger scene that was true to the Biblical account of Christ's birth. Called a crèche, the scene that St. Francis set up for the village of Greccio was made up of hay, carved figures and live animals, capturing for the uneducated people of the town more of the spirit and the story of Christ's birth than any splendid art treasure.
The popularity of St. Francis's crèche spread throughout the world. In Italy it is called a presepio; in Germany, a Krippe. It is a naciemiento in Spain and Latin America, a jeslicky in the Czech Republic, a pesebre in Brazil, and a portal in Costa Rica.