12 February 2014

How did I not see it before?

One of my brother priests of the Diocese of Springfield Illinois is currently spending a few days of vacation here in Rome with his family.  Yesterday they invited me to join them for a quick day trip to Assisi, an invitation I was happy to accept.

I was a bit disappointed that the rain continued coming down upon the City of Peace; the beauty of the city is somewhat masked and hidden when not exposed to the full light of the sun.  Nonetheless, there was a moment of grace in a short pilgrimage, for when we visited the chapel of the Crucifix of San Damiano, I looked upon it as if for the first time.

Certainly the image before which Saint Francis of Assisi prayed in 1205 when the Lord told him to rebuild his Church was not new to me; I have loved it since I first studied in college in 1997 and have kept a copy of it hanging in my office and bedroom ever since.

As I stood in the back of the chapel, to better to take in the entire crucifix, I was repeatedly drawn to the face of Jesus (each time I look upon the image, something else captures my attention).  As I looked upon it yesterday, I suddenly realized, "I know that face!"

Take a moment to look at the face of Jesus as depicted on the crucifix that was moved from the church of San Damiano to the Basilica of Santa Chiara in 1257:

The quality of the image is as not as good as I should like it, but since photographs are not allowed in the chapel I wasn't able to take a detail shot of the original.

Notice, first of all the eyes; they are open, searching, and deep.  Notice, too, the straight mouth that hints at a smile.  Notice the thin beard and the long hair.  Notice the shape of the nose and the broad forehead.  Notice, especially, the slight wisp of hair touching the forehead where the hair parts on the top of the head.

With the above image in mind, now take a look at the Volto Santo (the Holy Face) as it appears on the veil enshrined at Manoppello and that once covered the face of Jesus in the tomb:

PHOTO: Paul Badde
The Crucifix of San Damiano was written about the year 1100.  The Volto Santo comes from the first century.  How is that the two images are so very much alike?

When I e-mailed Paul Badde to tell him of what I discovered - a discovery he had already made - he sent another image of the face of Christ in Assisi:

PHOTO: Paul Badde

Once again, the similarities between this image and the other two are quite striking.  How did I miss this one?!

This is something into which I need to delve deeper, but it seems the book describing the history of the face of Jesus in art through the centuries has not yet been written.


  1. Father...maybe you could be the person to write that book! I saw a large illustrated book about images of Jesus through the centuries (in Italian, which I don't read very well) in Turin in 2010. I regret passing it up now because you are right... it seems a book like that about the Face of Christ has not yet been written, at least not in English, that I can find. :)

    1. I agree that someone needs to write this book, but I'm not sure I'm the one to do it.

    2. Still, you aren't the first to have suggested it.

    3. Ah ha! See,it would be wonderful and so beneficial to souls! Well, in the meantime I will be praying that the Holy Spirit will bestow upon you all His Gifts to fulfill the mission He has given you, which (to my mind anyway) seems to be to draw souls to His Holy Face! +Many Blessings!