St. Francis and the San Damiano Cross

By Brian McGuire ‘16

     The San Damiano Cross is the iconic symbol in the Franciscan family.  It was originally displayed in the Church of San Damiano which was the first church rebuilt by St. Francis. It is currently on display in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi.  The San Damiano Cross has been preserved for over 900 years.  The original cross is very large and uniquely shaped like a Romanesque church. The cross depicts Jesus crucified.  Although Jesus is the center piece of the cross, there are many other figures represented on the cross including the hand of God,  Mary, the Mother of God and John at Jesus’ side, and the empty tomb behind Jesus.  The hand of God is shown with two fingers outstretched and three fingers closed.  The two fingers outstretched symbolize Jesus’ two natures, divine and human.  The three fingers closed symbolize the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Directly above Jesus’ head is the full inscription that says, “Jesus the Nazarean, King of the Jews.”  Jesus’ eyes are wide open on the cross.  We see on the cross Mary and John beside him, reminding us that they were right by Jesus’ side at the time of the crucifixion.  Another important part of the cross was Jesus’ facial expression.  He is on the cross being crucified and dying but yet his eyes are open.  It shows Jesus looking onward, perhaps to what will happen after death.   Each different part of the cross has its own meaning and is essential for making the cross complete.

     This cross is very important in the Franciscan order as it was to St. Francis.  One day, St. Francis was praying in the San Damiano chapel, and a voice, which Francis believed was coming from the cross, said “Francis, go repair my church which is falling into ruins.”  The first thing Francis did was repair the chapel because it was falling down.  But God meant something more than that. He was meant to repair the church as a community. I believe that God calls us to do the same if we have to repair relationships with family or friends.

     The San Damiano cross is important to me because it is an important part of the Franciscan Order and Archbishop Curley. I look at it every time I go to the chapel or in each of our classroom.  It reminds me about what it means and how it is so important in the Franciscan tradition.  I believe it would be a great experience to travel to Assisi sometime in my life and be in the presence of the actual San Damiano Cross.  I have heard from others who have been there that it is a once in a lifetime experience.  I had seen the cross many times but I did not realize all the different elements on it.

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