The San Damiano cross

Churches often have a crucifix behind the pulpit, over the head of the preacher. It reminds us that "we proclaim Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1.23)".

The crucifix above the pulpit at St Philips is a Italian-made reproduction of the San Damiano cross, a cross-shaped icon of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Tradition is that while praying before this cross in the Chapel of San Damiano, Assisi, St Francis received God's call to rebuild the Church. The original cross has been in the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi since about 1257. It is one of a number of similar 12th century Umbrian icon crosses.The crucifix now in the chapel San Damiano is a copy. For Franciscans, it symbolises of their mission to renew and rebuild the Church.

In the icon, the bright white of Jesus' body accentuates his prominence. The next largest figures are witnesses of the crucifixion. On the left are the Mary the mother of Jesus and John. On the right are Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and the centurion whose servant had been heal by Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13). The servant is depicted on the shoulder of the centurion. Mary and Mary Magdalene have their hands placed on their cheeks in grief and anguish.

Peering over the left shoulder of the centurion is a small face, with the tops of the three heads beside him. This represents the centurion's son who was healed by Jesus and the rest of his family who believed (John 4:45-54).

On the lower left is the soldier who pierced Jesus’s side. On the lower right is the soldier who offered Jesus a sponge soaked in vinegar. At each end of the crossbar, angels marvel at the crucifixion. At the foot of the cross there are the traditional patrons of Umbria: Damian, Michael, Rufino, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul.

At the top of the cross, Jesus is dressed in his regal garments, carrying the cross as a sceptre as he leaves the tomb and enters the heavenlies. Angels are crowded around. Above is the hand of God with fingers extended in blessing.

San Damiano cross

Click the image for a enlarged version

St Philip's Anglican Church,
cnr Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602.