San Damiano Cross

The San Damiano Cross is known as the “Crucifix that spoke to St. Francis” in 1205 CE in Assisi, Italy.

The Cross was hung in the little church of San Damiano that was outside the walls of Assisi. When Francis stopped by the church to pray, he found the church to be “collapsing from old age…No one went down the worn staircase into the church: But Francis did, and with that act, the Franciscan Order was born.”

As Francis knelt in prayer before the painted Byzantine Cross, “Suddenly it seemed to him that Jesus’ gaze was fixed upon him…They were speaking and expressing a burning passion…Francis distinctly heard his name being called…‘Francis, go repair my house, which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’”

Francis stood up, frightened but moved. Believing that the message of the San Damiano Cross was to be taken literally, Francis began to repair the church by begging in Assisi for stones. Other young men came out to help with the renovation of the little church with the painted Cross. In time, Francis and his followers came to believe the message of the painted image on the wooden San Damiano Cross–that of Jesus Christ–meant that Francis should rebuild the gospel church in the world.

The making of the San Damiano Cross was inspired by St. John’s Gospel. It is believed to be a 12th century icon painted by a Syrian monk, created to reveal the essence of profound mystery. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is painted at the extreme right of Jesus, to the east, a place of honor. The several other painted figures on the crucifix are all found in the Gospel of St. John.

The Poor Clare Sisters took the cross from San Damiano in 1257 when they left the little church that also served as their convent. It was preserved for 700 years in the Church of San Giorgio in Assisi. The Icon of San Damiano was placed in public view for the first time during Holy Week 1957. In September 1958, the crucifix that spoke to St. Francis was permanently placed over a new altar in the San Giorgio chapel and is now always available for public viewing.

At the University of St. Francis, a likeness of the San Damiano Cross has been placed in Tower Hall, the first of the university’s buildings. It is prominently placed in the front entrance lobby for all to see and “listen” to.

Source: FRANCIS OF ASSISI, by Arnaldo Fortini