The small, thick-walled church of San Damiano was built around 1030 A.D. Once the home of a flourishing Benedictine community, it had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair by the time St. Francis of Assisi was a young man.
Within this forgotten church, however, hung a six-foot tall painted Byzantine style cross.
At first glance this cross seems “busy,” packed with so many images that it’s hard to take it all in. Every image, of course, has a purpose.
The cross depicts Christ’s Passion. The Corpus is surrounded by those who witnessed the crucifixion: the Blessed Mother, St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and the humble centurion who asked Our Lord to heal his dying son.
Accompanying the five witnesses are the smaller figures of Longinus, who pierced the side of Christ; the soldier (traditionally named Stephaton) who offered Our Lord the sponge of vinegar and gall; and the humble centurion’s household, who all followed Christ after the son’s healing.
At the crossbar, six angels bear up the cross in their hands. Five more figures, traditionally held to be the patron saints of the Umbria area, pray at the foot of the cross. And at the top, the resurrected Christ ascends in glory to heaven, as the hand of God the Father blesses Him.
Praying before the San Damiano cross in the autumn of 1205, St. Francis received God’s call. Deep in prayer, he heard a voice speak to him from the cross: “Francis, go and repair My house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” In obedience, France gave his life to restoring and rebuilding the Bride of Christ, which is His Church.
At The Catholic Company, we have a beautiful San Damiano Cross inspired by the original. This hand-painted devotional will help deepen your veneration of the Passion and Christ’s holy cross. Get yours today at The Catholic Company!