Catholic Company / Magazine

Spotlight on St. Francis of Assisi and the San Damiano Cross

Oct 03, 2012 by

San Damiano CrossToday is the feast day of one of the most influential saints, St. Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis of Assisi grew up in a wealthy family with a good education but quickly became a street brawler and later a soldier. St. Francis of Assisi found his commission to serve God as a prisoner of war. As a servant of God he founded the Franciscan order and started a tradition of loving animals and man. St. Francis of Assisi also introduced the world to the San Damiano Cross.

History of the San Damiano Cross

I’ll admit that I was disappointed to find that the original craftsman of the San Damiano cross is unknown.  But at the same time this fact, at least in my eyes, further reinforces that this cross is a gift from God more than anything else.  In fact it was under the original san damiano cross that St. Francis of Assisi received his important commission from God.  It is for this reason that the San Damiano cross is highly revered by Franciscans.  The original San Damiano cross hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy.

Description of the San Damiano Cross

  • The largest image is that of Christ on the cross.  This cross is unique in that Christ looks not only strong but glorified with the halo around his head.  The next largest figures are the five witnesses of the crucifixion: (from left to right) Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and the Roman centurion from the Gospel according to Matthew.
  • The three smaller figures standing with the larger ones who witnessed the crucifixion are: (on the left) Longinus, the soldier said to have pierced Jesus’ side with his lance, (on the right) Stephaton, the soldier who is said to have offered Jesus the sponge soaked with vinegar, and lastly the son of the centurion.
  • Those six figures at the crossbar represent six angels witnessing and marveling at the death of Christ.
  • The five figures at the bottom of the cross are the traditional patrons of Umbria: St. John, St. Michael, St. Ruffino, St. Peter, and St. Paul.
  • At the top of the cross is an image of the glorified Christ surrounded by 10 angels welcoming him and the hand of God laying a blessing on Christ.

It goes without saying that this cross is one of the most beautiful and most rich in meaning.  The images represented are beautiful and this cross would make a beautiful addition to any home.  The San Damiano cross is by far one of my favorite catholic crosses and writing this blog has helped me to love and appreciate it even more.  Do you love the San Damiano cross?  Why or why not?  What is your favorite cross or crucifix?