San Damiano Cross
This 11st centry cross which is of the Byzantine style was displayed in the church of San Damiano outside of Assisi, Italy. St. Francis frequented this church to pray. One day while praying, Francis heard the Lord's voice speak to him, "Francis, go and rebuild my house, which is falling into ruins." The original icon cross now hangs in Santa Chiarra (St. Claire Church) in Assisi Italy. The icon image is believed to be a window in the eternal world capturing the realities of the Gospel affirming that Christ is the image of God.
This cross was important for the medieval people as was all artwork found in churches of its time. It was through paintings, stained glass and statues that people learned about God and the Bible. Art was the medium used to educate the uneducated population.
The San Damiano cross has many images on it whose purpose is to teach more fully the meaning of the crucifixion. the image of Jesus shows the Jesus of John's Godpel who suffered and died. John's Jesus also understood that through his death atonement for the sin of the world would be achieved, as well as His ultimate triumph over death. Note the halo which represents the kingship of Christ, one who rules over all things including death itself. Next to Jesus on both sides under His arms is one of the major witnesses. On the left side are the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple John. Jesus while on the cross said to his Mother, "Woman behold your son", then He said to the disciple, "Behold your Mother" (John 19:26 - 27)
On the right side are the women present at the corss - Mary Magdalend, Mary, Mother of James (wife of Cleopas - Mark 15:40) and the centurion of Mark's Gospel who said, "Truly this is the Son of God: (Mark 15:39) with an onlooker at his shoulder. The centurion's hand gesture, a classis position of Christian witness, is a traditional sign for "I am speaking".
Below the figures of the Major Witnesses are two smaller figures, one on either side. Below Mary is Longinus the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus (John 19:34) and who is holding a spear while standing beneath droplets of precious blood. Interestingly in some art he is shown with blood dropping in his eye, which is healed, so says tradition, of its spiritual blindness. The minor witness on the opposite side is "Stephaton" whom artists of this era place with Longinus as the soldier who offered Jesus the vinegar-soaked sponge in John's Godpel (19:28-30).
At the crossbasrs near Jesus' hands are six angels, three on each side. Six is the number of incompletion, the crucified Christ has yet to resurrect from the dead. These six angels - messengers from God poise their hands to represent awe, discussion and invitation.
At the bottom under the feet of Jesus are typically six figures. In the original cross the painting is so worn only two figures are still visible. The six figures in the Umbrian (the region where Assisi is located) art form are the area's patrons: Sts. John, Michael, Rufino, John the Baptis, Peter and Paul.
On the outside of Jesus' left calf is a rooster representing the cock crowing after Peter denied Christ three times. (Matthe 26:74-75; Mark 14:72).
At the top of the cross above the halo of Jesus is Jesus in royal garb in His kingship, brandishing the cross like a scepter demonstrating the victory of the cross. The figure of Christ is surrounded by a circle - a sign of eternity. Christ is welcomed by ten angels alive by the power of God. The right hand of God is extended to Christ who shall sit at the right hand of the Father, a term which implies equal in all things to the Father.