Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of CanadaFranciscains du Canada

Ordo Fratrum Minorum

The Glorious San Damiano Cross

San Damiano
For us of the Franciscan family, the feast of the Glorious Cross or the Exaltation of the Cross is a memorable day because it is around this feast (14 September 1224) that saint Francis of Assisi, while praying on the side of Mount Laverna, beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, and as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified. But this feast also reminds us of another event of Francis at the beginning of his spiritual journey: the encounter with Jesus as he gazed at the ‘glorious’ cross in the chapel of San Damiano.

This crucifix is the work of an unknown Umbrian artist from the 12th century, and is held in great veneration by the Poor Clare Sisters who has protected it for seven centuries. It is located today in the Basilica of Saint-Clare in Assisi. According to Thomas of Celano (Vita Prima), it is this crucifix that spoke to Francis of Assisi saying: «Go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruins!»

During his prayer in the small chapel in ruins, Francis is visited in depth by Jesus crucified whose image or icon offers itself to his contemplative gaze, with the intensity of a presence that speaks to him. This icon becomes a place of personal encounter but also a place of sending forth for a responsibility towards others in the Church and everywhere.

This representation of Christ on the cross (crucified and glorified) is singular and very meaningful. The cross is glorious, not an instrument of torment and humiliation. Very ornamented, it is festive. Jesus receives the glory of the Father in the presence of all. He is the Living One and not the man of pain, suffering or death. He breathes serenity and dignity. His open arms are a gesture of offering and welcoming.

His short, white, and adorned garment is reminiscent of that of the priest in the Old Testament. The blood gushing from his wound, bright, generous and ardent, evokes new life, healing and liberation. At the top of the cross, in a red medallion, there is an impressive representation: that of the joyous and dancing entry of the Son into glory.

Above Him, is the loving hand of the Father who welcomes and blesses. All around, a cohort of admiring Angels – other Angels appear on the arms of the cross. More surprising: on this cross, Jesus is not alone, he is surrounded by angels, men and women: witnesses. Central, is the face of Christ with his extraordinary look that, beyond time and space, seems to measure the extent of the work accomplished in the history of the world. A golden halo or royal crown surrounds the head of Jesus. Above this, an inscription dictated by Pilate: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Also to be noted are the attitudes, the faces, the gestures of the hands, which are oriented towards Christ. In silent dialogue, all the characters (including the Angels) are attentive to the mystery they point to and which inhabits them. There would be much to say concerning the symbolism of shapes and colors. Let us retain here that black is symbolic of contradiction, sin, and loss. Red is a symbol of love, of life, of the Passion of Christ. White is the symbol of resurrection.

Georges Morin, o.f.m.