San Damiano Crucifix

Imported from Assisi
SAN DAMIANO CRUCIFIX


Perhaps the best-known and most highly venerated crucifix in the world. It hung in the abandoned Chapel of San Damiano where St. Francis (then young Francesco Bernardone) was called to the Lord's service. Made in Assisi. Mounted on durable wood board and finished with gold leaf, a raised gold frame and a hook for hanging. Large is 16" x 12"; Small is 8 1/2" x 6 1/2"

  • San Damiano Crucifix (large) (Item #1977A)
  • $32.95
  • -+
  • San Damiano Crucifix (small) (Item #1978A)
  • $16.95
  • -+
Story and Iconography of the San Damiano Crucifix

The San Damiano Crucifix is the one through which God spoke to Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1205, saying "Go, Francis, and repair my Church which, as you see, is falling into ruin." Francis repaired the San Damiano Chapel, in which the crucifix was located, and eventually his acts of poverty, humility and charity brought about repairs to the entire Catholic Church.

The artist who crafted the crucifix left no written explanation of his work, other than names under some of the standing figures. There was no need for more, since most people of the time were illiterate but could readily relate religious iconography to bible stories heard in church. In this crucifix they saw the story of Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Even the colors meant something: red, the color of Christ's blood, symbolizing God's love; and black, the color of death.

On the lower part of the cross, near Jesus' left shin, is a very small image of a rooster, reminding us of Peter's denial during Christ's Passion, and his subsequent repentance and conversion.

Directly below the rooster is the barely perceptible figure of a person. This may be Saint Peter, looking up at the rooster; or perhaps it is a portrait of the artist or the donor.

The square panel below the arms of the cross portrays those present at the crucifixion of Jesus. Under Christ's right arm the Blessed Virgin Mary stands next to Saint John. Dressed in scarlet, Mary Magdalene stands in a place of honor on the other side of Christ. Next to her is the other Mary. At the far right stands the Roman Centurion of Capernaum, who, at the crucifixion, voiced his belief in Christ. He holds a piece of wood in his left hand, symbolizing his building of the synagogue (Luke 7: 1-5). The thumb and two fingers of his right hand are raised in a symbol of the Trinity, while the two closed fingers signify the mystery of the two natures of Jesus. Four heads peer over the shoulder of the centurion. Are they the centurion's servant, healed by Jesus, and soldiers (Luke 7: 6-10)? Or, are they the centurion's son, healed by Jesus, and household of believers (John 4: 46-54)? Two minor figures (as indicated by their smaller size) stand at the bottom corners of the crucifixion-scene panel. On our left is the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus' side with a lance (John 19: 34). On our right is the bystander who offered Jesus a sponge soaked in common wine after Jesus cried out "I thirst" (John 19: 28-29). According to Christian tradition they are named Longinus and Stephaton (or Steven).

Above Christ's head on the cross is the Latin inscription "IHS NAZARE REX IUDEORU" (often abbreviated as "INRI"), meaning "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." (John 19: 19)

"He descended into hell; the third day he arose again from the dead;" (Apostles' Creed). Under Christ's feet we see the black abyss of the dead, and several haloed figures. These are the souls of holy people who died before Christ and were awaiting Salvation before being admitted into Heaven. Blood pours over them from the wounds in Christ's feet, signifying their long awaited redemption.

The central figure of the San Damiano Crucifix is Christ risen from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, clad in a formal loin cloth symbolic of both high priest and victim. He stands upright, no longer hanging from nails. His eyes are open again. His face radiates a calm expression of peace in the knowledge that the price of our redemption is paid. His wounds continue to pour out the blood of his love for us.

On the arms of the cross, behind Christ's outstretched arms, is a black rectangle representing the empty tomb. The red stripe over the black tomb signifies that the red of God's Love is victorious over the blackness of death. At either side of the empty tomb stands a saint. These are probably the women who discovered the empty tomb early on Easter morning. Beneath each of Christ's wrists are two angels in heated discussion. Are they angels at the beginning of time, arguing whether to worship the Son of Man? Is this Lucifer debating Archangel Michael?

The rectangular panel at the top of the cross represents heaven. Emerging from a circle of red and entering heaven we see Jesus, fully robed in garments of gold. In his left hand he carries a golden cross which is his royal scepter and a sign of his victory over death. Choirs of angels welcome Jesus into heaven.

Within the red semi-circle at the top of the scene we see the right hand of the Father with two fingers extended in benediction, blessing all that Jesus has done. The hand also symbolizes God maintaining Creation and sending us his Holy Spirit, a gift merited by Christ's sacrifice.

History of the Original San Damiano Cross

The original cross, approximately 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide, is a painting on linen glued to walnut. An unknown artist produced it sometime prior to 1205, the year in which Francis knelt before it in the San Damiano Chapel. The abandoned, neglected and half ruined condition of that chapel in 1205 suggests that the cross may be considerably older. The artist may have been a Syrian monk: the iconography shows a strong Byzantine influence, and local history says there had been Syrian monks in the Assisi area for centuries.

In 1257 the followers of Saint Clare of Assisi, the Poor Clares, left San Damiano for San Giorgio and took the Cross with them. They preserved it for seven centuries. In Holy Week of 1957 it went on public view in the Basilica of Saint Clare (Santa Chiara) in Assisi, where it may be seen today.

Prayer of Saint Francis Before the San Damiano Crucifix

"All-highest, glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, O Lord, so that I may do what is truly your holy will. Amen."
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Reviews

4 reviews

Beautiful
Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Sep 14, 2020  |  By Tina L.
The San Damiano Crucifix is beautiful! You will not be disappointed!!
Tina L.


Perfect size; wonderful value!
Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Jul 5, 2020  |  By Linda
I purchased the large 16" from you several years ago. It is large enough to be visually striking and to show the detail, but does not overwhelm a small space. I couldn't be more pleased.
Linda


Beautiful!
Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Apr 18, 2018  |  By Douglas
Just Perfect. Truly a beautiful cross.
Douglas


San Damiano Crucifix
Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Review star icon Mar 14, 2016  |  By Lesley D.
Beautiful devotional item, very appropriate for "silent auction" for which I purchased it, which numerous Catholics will be attending.
Lesley D.

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