History of the San Damiano Crucifix

WHEN THE IMAGE OF CHRIST in the crucifix at San Damiano miraculously spoke to St. Francis, saying, “Go repair my Church, which as you see is falling completely in ruin,” he was awakened to new zeal. He first concentrated on repairing the church buildings of San Damiano and nearby churches. But his great “repair” to the Church was the founding of the Franciscan Order, which began with the followers that Christ began to send to him shortly after the vision.

The original crucifix icon was painted by an unknown Umbrian artist in the twelfth century. The original cross, hangs in Santa Chiara Church in Assisi. When in 1257, the Poor Clares moved to Santa Chiara, they took the San Damiano Cross with them and still guard it with great solicitude. It was placed on public view for the first time in modern times in Holy Week of 1957, over the new altar in San Giorgio’s Chapel in the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi. The crucifix now hanging over the altar of the ancient church of San Damiano is a copy. All Franciscans cherish this cross as the symbol of their mission from God to commit our lives and resources to renew and rebuild the Church in the power of God. St. Angela Merici was a Third Order Franciscan which is why we, under her patronage, are blessed to use it in our parish.

The meaning of the imagery contained in this renowned icon

The most striking element of the San Damiano Crucifix is the figure of Christ. It is not a body twisted in anquish, rather it is luminous, radiating the hope of the Resurrection. Instead of a crown of thorns, the image of Christ has a glorious halo. The Savior looks directly at us with a compassionate gaze, regal, triumphant, and strong. He does not hang on the Cross, but rather seems to be supporting it, standing in His full stature. His hands are not cramped from being nailed to the wood, but rather spread out serenely in an attitude of both supplication and blessing, which our iconographer has further emphasized by Jesus’ tranquil and gentle expression. This iconographic Crucifix does not express the brute horror of death by crucifixion, but rather the nobility and gentleness of eternal life.

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