We do not know the author of this beautiful and magnificent icon. He stayed hidden!
But he left us a remarkable object which speaks of the spirit, of the Risen Jesus Christ in the light of the resurrection.
In this article you will see how the cross of San Damiano left a strong appeal on st. Francis of Assisi. And we will go deep into the details of the images and their meaning of this beautiful icon.
The point of the Cross or the Crucifix of San Damiano and our article is the same:
- Does the Cross also speak to me as it did to St Francis?
- Do I let myself be shaped by the cross or do I constantly run away and hide?
- Is God in the first place in my life (see reasons why go to the confession) or are fame, money, job, ego, spouse, children, pets, my collections,… on the first place)?
Here are the topics, if you just want to skip to a certain title, just click on it.
- Cross of San Damiano in Assisi – Location
- Jesus Christ’ dress
- Jesus the temple of the Holy Trinity
- Jesus Christ’ eyes
- Jesus Christ’ wounds
- People under Christ’s hands
- Virgin Mary
- Dress of the Virgin Mary
- The disciple John
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary, mother of James
- The Centurion – Captain
- Smaller subjects
- People under the cross of San Damiano
- The inscription above the head<
- The upper part of the icon
Cross of San Damiano in Assisi – Location
The Cross took the sisters of St Clare in 1257, when they moved out of the church of St. Damiano. They transferred it to the mother church of St. Clare in Assisi, where it can be still seen today.
They call it also the St Francis of Assisi cross. Because St. Francis prayed in front of it in the year 1205 and received a call from the Lord to work for his Church.
He initially interpreted the voice of the Christ as a call to restore the Church of St. Damiano. And only slowly and gradually realized that the Lord had called him to work for the whole Church and help renew it.
To better understand and discover the message of this icon, we must prepare. Stay humble and pray.
What better way to start then with the words and the Prayer of Saint Francis before the Cross at San Damiano:
“Most High glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, insight and wisdom, so I can always observe Thy holy and true command. Amen”
Let’s be inspired by this beautiful historic event and the cross itself.
This icon, called Christ at Saint Damian, was named after the Saint Damiano chapel, where the icon first stood. It was painted in 12th century by a Syrian monk.
The real name is the icon of the glorious Christ. It teaches us about the mystery of Christ and the church. Many people do not understand this icon.
The researcher of San Damiano cross Marc Picard, says that we first have to pray to the Holy Spirit to discover the greatness of this cross.
The icon is made after the 4th gospel. What we see here is that Christ does not have a crown of thorns, but a golden light – aureole. There is no sign of death or suffering at all, merely glorification.
The fourth gospel and this cross describe us the battle between the light and darkness. And the icon is the end result. Jesus’ victory.
His body is even more illuminated, because it’s painted on the black background. Black color represents the opposite of the light.
The entire icon is surrounded by a red color, a symbol of love. The icon represents the victory of light and love over the darkness.
Jesus Christ’ dresss
What kind of a scarf does he wear? With this we can find out what is his mission. He is wrapped in canvas belt with gold ornaments.
Both were used as garments for priests. So there is no doubt that Jesus is coming and acting as a priest.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’ Hebrews 10:5-7
Jesus the temple of the Holy Trinity
In the middle of his chest, the head of a person is visible, which is plotted with a thread. It is visible from the side and facing to the left. This is the Father of whom he says:
“That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21
Underneath is a circle. A sign of eternity for the old tribes. There is an image of a pigeon on the forehead of the Christ. It is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ’ eyes
They are wide open. They testify that he lives.
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” Revelation 1:17-18
His eyes are very large. This means that he is the one who sees. “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” John 6:46
Christ’s eyes are turned between heaven and earth. He is the highest priest, who sacrificed himself for all the people. He is an “agent” between heaven and earth.
Jesus Christ’ wounds
Christ’s wounds have become a fountain. This blood is the New Testament that represents eternal redemption.
“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” Hebrews 9:12-14
On both sides we see an Angel that looks at the wound of his hand. Under the hands are the angels which express their amazement.
Saint Peter makes very well when he writes: “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” 1 Peter 1:12
People under the Christ’s hands
Their names are from left to right. Virgin Mary, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and the Centurion. They are close to the Christ, so we see that his prayer was answered.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24
The other characteristic is that they are all drawn the same size.
Thus, the author wants to show us that the sanctity of an individual is not important, but the fact that Christ is present in all. And they are all similar, big eyes, small mouth and an oval face.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29
She stands on the far right. This is the honorable place in the east. Psalm tells us: I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever. Psalm 45:10
Her gaze reveals gentleness and admiration; she hears the words of Jesus.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son.” John 19:27
She expresses the admiration of Jesus’ mystery by lifting her left hand to her mouth.
Dress of the Virgin Mary
She is wearing a wide white coat, which indicates several meanings.
- expresses loyalty to the gospel;
- White dress is also a sign of purification.
- On the white coat we see expensive stones stranded in rows. They represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Under the white coat, Mary has a dark red dress, which is a symbol of love. It also has a purple tunic on it. This color reminds us that she is the true ark of the new testament, the incarnate God’s Word. Jesus Christ.
The disciple John
John was Christ’s loved disciple. Standing next to Jesus at the last supper. He represents us.
His head is facing towards Mary with an attitude of a child who knows that he is loved. The right hand shows towards Jesus who loves him. He also wears a red coat that means love for eternal wisdom. John’s white tunic means his victory over the flesh.
On the left side of the Christ is Mary Magdalene. It comes from the fulfillment of Jesus’ words. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. Luke 13:30
Her dress is a red, symbol of love. This woman who once had a multitude of evil spirits, is now the closest to the Christ in glory.
“And also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” Luke 8:2
She was with him on the cavalry and told to the apostles the good news. Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:18
Mary, mother of James
Mary, the mother of James, remained faithful to his death. She represents thousands of faithful’s that will be crowned by glory on day of God’s judgment. She listens carefully to the words of Mary Magdalene. The gesture of her hands expresses the admiration of Jesus.
The Centurion – Captain
He is the king’s official, whose son was healed by Jesus’ words alone. He and his family believed. Behind his left shoulder we see the sons’ face and if we look closely, we see the foreheads of three people. They represent a family, united in faith.
His faith is reflected in his view on Jesus Christ and the three extending fingers, which represent the Holy Trinity.
There are also two persons with whom were not familiar. The left one is similarly dressed as the Centurion, which is why it is likely to be a Roman.
The person on the right side stands in the same position. Has a raised knee, the hand at the side and facing Christ. This means that he has fulfilled his role.
These two represent, those who kidnapped Jesus Christ. Romans and Hebrews.
So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. John 18:3
Why are the painted smaller as others? Because their role was small. It looks like those people killed Jesus, but in reality: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” John 10:18
So those who crucified Jesus Christ, are now watching him, as it is written: and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced. John 19:37
People under the cross of San Damiano
Only two persons are visible. It is likely that that the part of the icon was damaged, due to pilgrims kissing and touching the St Damiano cross.
Standing in a closed space. Although they do not look at Christ directly, their heads have a distinct glow. It coincides with the description of Paul: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love.” Ephesians 1:4
In this position they can’t see Jesus, except in an incomplete way.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
The inscription above the head
The inscription above the head is familiar –IHS.
The first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus. The inscription means Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. These words depict all the life of Christ.
The upper part of the icon
The raising right leg tells us that about his ascension. He goes to his Father. The angels are like their Lord, dressed in red and with golden aureoles.
Father’s hand. On the top is the father’s right hand, which blesses. The Father’s blessing is the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus deserved with his death. So Jesus says: But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7
To understand the blessing of our Father better, we must think about the words that Jesus said to us: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. John 14:16
- The Icon of the Christ of San Damiano, Marc Picard, OFM, Italy
- New International Version (NIV) Bible – www.biblegateway.com