The San Damiano Cross of St. Francis of Assisi

A Brief Explanation By: Fr. Michael Scanlon, T.O.R.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Province, USA

The San Damiano Cross is the one St. Francis was praying before when he received the commission from the Lord to rebuild the Church. The original cross presently hangs in Santa Chiarra (St.Clare) Church in Assisi, Italy. All Franciscans cherish his cross as the symbol of their mission from God. The cross is called an icon cross because it contains images of people who have a part in the meaning of the cross. The tradition of such crosses began in the eastern Church and was transported by Serbian monks to the Umbria district of Italy.

The San Damiano Cross was one of a number of crosses painted with similar figures during the 12th century in Umbria. The name of the painter is unknown. The purpose of an icon cross was to teach the meaning of the event depicted and thereby strengthen the faith of the people. These conclusions have been reached based on a thorough study of the history of the cross and the literature concerning it. Very little literature is available in English. Most of it can only be read in Italian or French. The author also found it very helpful to compare the cross to similar crosses in Umbrian art.

Finally, much of the English literature on the cross is faulty in its analysis since it dates back to sources prior to 1938 when the cross was restored to its original depiction.

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– Thanks to Brian for the question

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