The San Damiano Crucifix

SanDamianoCrucifixThe crucifix in our Church is a reproduction of the famous San Damiano Crucifix in Assisi. The original hung in early medieval times in the chapel of San Damiano in northern Italy. Francis Bernadone, a well-to-do merchant’s son, came puzzled and groping to pray in that chapel in the year 1205. A voice from the crucifix said to him, “Francis, go repair my church.” The young man got up ready for action. It was a turning point in his vocation. He had begun to be St. Francis.

The original crucifix was fashioned about the year 1100 A.D. for the church of San Damiano. It is in the Byzantine style, which was common in Italy before Cimabue and Giotto. The San Damiano Crucifix is a heavy wooden cross, twelve feet high and eight feet wide. The shaft and crossbar are both about twelve inches thick. This type of cross was not rare in the 13th Century.

The San Damiano Crucifix shows Christ fastened to the cross by four nails, covered with a loincloth. He stands on a wooden block. There is no expression of pain on His face, which is turned slightly to the right. The eyes are open. The hair falls smoothly onto His shoulders. On His right side, the wound of the lance can barely be seen. Blood from the hands runs down the arms to the elbows.

Under the right arm of Christ is, first St. John, then, the Blessed Mother, and beneath her, a very small Longinus with a spear. Under the left arm of Christ stands St. Mary Magdalen, then, Mary, the Mother of James, and finally the centurion who has the small head of a soldier peeking over his left shoulder and a diminutive figure of a man with a sponge and staff at his feet. The names of all the larger figures are painted out in white.

Near the head of Christ, on either side of the crossbeam, the half figures of two angels appear. At each end there is a full figure of an angel. All look upon the scene with compassion.

At the very top of the cross we see Christ carrying a light cross as a trophy and walking up to heaven. The ascending Christ is shown in the center of a small crossbeam at the top of the cross. He is met by the blessing hand of God the Father. This ascension is cheered by ten angels, five on each side.

Along the lower left side of the shaft of the cross there is a small rooster, a frequent symbol of immortality in early Christian art. Along the lower right side of the shaft there is a small animal, possibly a cat – reference to a cat is made in the Bible.

At the very base of the cross there were originally six figures. Four of these are barely discernible. Father Leo Bracaloni, O.F.M. proposes that they are: St. Damian (the patron of the little church), St. Rufino (the patron of the Assisi Cathedral), St. Michael (shown, as was the custom of the time, holding a ball striped in the middle surmounted probably by a cross), St. John Baptist (customarily associated with St. Michael and grouped with him). Besides these four faint images there are two figures which are still rather clear. These appear to be St. Peter and St. Paul. There is a cock over the head of St. Peter.

The Crucifix is rich in symbolism. Here is an explanation of that symbolism:

1) The Christ-figure is the most prominent figure. His eyes are opened symbolizing the Pascal Mystery – the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

2) Above the Christ-figure we have a scene symbolic of the Ascension, Christ in the midst of the angels and saints.

3) In the uppermost part of the crucifix, just above the scene of the Ascension, we find the symbolic Hand of God, symbol of the Father’s Presence.

4) To the left of the Christ-figure are pictured Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and John, both symbolizing the Church.

5) To the right of the Christ-figure are pictured Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and the centurion. These figures symbolize people of faith with whom Jesus worked miracles.

In the San Damiano Crucifix, we are summing up centuries of tradition in the Catholic Church, a tradition found not only in art, but in our Catholic faith.

The crucifix of San Damiano had been hanging in the little church of Assisi for more than a century before the startling challenge “to repair my church” was thrust before Francis. When Clare of Assisi came to follow the ideal of the new life, Francis established her in the garret above St. Damian’s church. When in 1257 the Poor Clares moved to Santa Chiara, which was built for them within the walls of Assisi, they took the San Damiano crucifix with them and still guard it with great solicitude. The crucifix now hanging over the altar of the ancient church of San Damiano is a copy.


Great God, full of glory and Thou, my Lord Jesus Christ, I beseech Thee to illuminate me and to dissipate the darkness of my spirit, to give me a pure faith, firm hope, and perfect charity. O my god, grant me to know Thee well, and to do all things according to Thy light and in conformity with Thy most holy will. Amen.

1) Alpha and Omega Window – St. Paul says that Christ is the beginning and the end. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. The Open Book is symbolic of the Liturgy of the word, thus it is placed above the pulpit.

2) The Lamb Window – St. John in the Book of Revelations (apocalypse) or last book of the Bible reveals a vision of heaven wherein he describes the Lamb (Jesus) as if slain (alive and yet pierced with a sword) and carrying a red banner with the cross. This window is symbolic of Jesus in the Paschal Mystery – Death and Resurrection. It is also symbolic of the Eucharist, thus it is placed above the altar.


1) The Nativity
2) Presentation of Mary
3) Jesus and the Children
4) St. Cecilia (rear)
5) Annunciation (rear) – from St. Joseph Church, Hanover, PA


1) Holy Family
2) Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
3) Guardian Angel and Children
4) King David (rear)
5) The Resurrection (rear) – from St. Joseph Church, Hanover, PA


1) Eye of God and Angels (Symbol of Wisdom)
2) Ten Commandments


1) “I believe in One God”
2) The Serpent


1) God the Father
2) Angel – “glory to God in the Highest”

All the above stained glass windows were given to us by the bishop from the Sylvan Heights Home Chapel, Harrisburg, PA.


1) Universe and Earth (large center round window)
2) Seven Days of Creation (each panel depicts a day of creation)
a) Light, b) sky and Sea, c) Land, d) Sun, Moon, and Stars, e) Birds and Fishes, f) Animals and Man, g) God rested.

These choir loft windows were designed and made by Edward J. Byrne Studio, 135 Cherry Lane, Doylestown, PA

ALTAR AND PULPIT (from the Old Church)

Both are made of red oak in keeping with the wood design of the church. The symbol of Christ with the grape vine is carved wood.

TABERNACLE (given by the Bishop)

Large rectangular bronze Tabernacle with ceramic late of wheat and grapes designed by Ed Byrne Studios.


The font is octagonal in shape (the eighth day is a sign of immorality) and designed by Ed Byrne with the inscription: “They are happy who, putting all their trust in the cross, have plunged into the water of life.” (From the author of the Second Century.)

Holy family Statutes are from the old church donated by Father Hribick.


Designed by Ed Byrne to match the Baptismal font, they are octagonal in shape with the following inscription: “We invite you to partake of this holy water as a re minder of your baptismal promises.”


This lamp is from the first wooden church of St. Joseph here in Mechanicsburg. It is brass, and it is mounted on the wall by the Tabernacle.


Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph Shrines are located in the rear of the Church. The status were made in Italy and designed by Ed Byrne Studio.


Allen Digital Computer Organ from Macungie, PA. The organ uses the latest digital computer technology. It reproduces the pipe organ sound through use of its computers which simulate the sound waves of a pipe organ. The organ requires little tuning and little maintenance.


Handmade vestments from the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts


The bronze box holds the sacred oils used for the sacraments. It was in the old church prior to the renovation.


In the Rite of Dedication the depositing of relics beneath the altar of the new church is, after the celebration of the Eucharist, among the oldest significant rites. Testimonies to this effect date back to the first half of the Fourth Century.

Very early, the Church grasped the connection between Christ’s sacrifice and that of the martyrs. The martyrs are the disciples par excellence: the “passio” they endured bound them tightly to the “passio Christi”, and made them in an extraordinary way similar to their teacher.

This theological intuition was translated into ritual during the Fourth Century. At that place where the “passio Christi” is celebrated – the altar – “in mysterio” – it is fitting that there be present relics of the martyrs.

When the rite of the depositing of relics takes place, it is highly recommended to keep a vigil at the relics of the martyr or saint which are to be placed under the altar. As recalled in the Rite of Dedication of the Ambrosian Basilica by St. Ambrose: “As it was close to evening we transferred them (the bones of Gervasius and Protasius) to the Basilica of Faustas. All that night watch was kept…” (Letter 22:2; PL 16:1063)

The relics beneath the altar at St. Joseph’s come from the altar stone used at St. Joseph’s since the parish was formed. There are two relics encased in stone.

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe (467-533 A.D.) – January 1
St. Castus (Martyred I 250 A.D.) – May 22