When Saint Francis (1182-1226) was searching for the purpose of his life, he entered the church of San Damiano, a small church in disrepair outside Assisi, Italy. When Francis prayed before a crucifix painted on wood, he heard Christ telling him to rebuild His Church. He took fine cloth from his father’s store, sold it and used the money to restore the Church of San Damiano. He also begged for most of the materials needed to rebuild the church. From this point on, Francis devoted himself completely to God and continued to provide spiritual leadership and witness of service throughout his life. The Church of San Damiano later served as the home of Saint Clare. The San Damiano Crucifix, preserved in the Church of Santa Chiara, is a 12th- century icon representing the living God. The Crucifix, which reflects the death, resurrection and ascension into glory, expresses the total and universal Paschal Mystery of Christ. It invites us to a personal encounter with the sacred, transfigured Christ and to a life of faith and action in the manner of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.
The central figure of this icon is Christ, standing upright, not nailed, but alive with his eyes open. His arms are outstretched in a gesture of love and an invitation to faith as Savior of the world and eternal. Behind his outstretched arms is his empty tomb, represented as a black rectangle. The Ascension is portrayed within a circle of red at the top of the crucifix. Christ is holding a golden cross, his royal scepter, and wearing gold, a symbol of royalty and victory. The right hand of God the Father is extended, welcoming the Son into divine fullness. Below the arms of Jesus are witnesses to the Crucifixion. Mary, Jesus’ mother, John, the Apostle, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Clopas, mother of James, and a centurion. Also depicted are Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side, and Stephen, the soldier who offered Jesus a sponge soaked in vinegar wine. At the bottom of the icon are six unknown saints who some suggest are Saints Damian, Rufinus, Michael, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, all patrons of Churches in the Assisi area. Saint Damian was the Patron of the Church in which Francis prayed before the Crucifix. Saint Rufinus was the Patron Saint of Assisi. Two groups of angels are also included. As he knelt before the Crucifix of San Damiano, Francis prayed: “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command."