16 June 2016

The lifting high of the San Damiano crucifix

Some weeks ago I shared with the happy and unexpected news that the San Damiano crucifix, the one that spoke to Saint Francis of Assisi, would be returned - briefly - to the church of San Damiano just outside of Assisi where it was during Saint Francis' life. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to pray before this holy crucifix in its original location where the Lord Jesus used it to effect a spiritual renewal in the Church, I made a little pilgrimage yesterday to Assisi with Father Jeffrey Keyes, a priest of the diocese of Santa Rosa who blogs at Omnia Christus est Nobis.

We went up to my favorite city yesterday because I either misremembered the date of the crucifix's transfer or because I had my days confused. Whichever it was, we arrived at the church of San Damiano one hour before the scheduled arrival of the crucifix.

When we realized this, I asked Father Keyes if he wanted to stay for the arrival or head into the city and return this afternoon. Having grown quite of pushy and noisy crowds, I hoped he preferred the latter, but he wanted to stay and I'm glad we did.

This crowd in the City of Peace was not at all like the Roman crowds I am now used to. There was pushing. There was no surging. There was no shouting or yelling. Everyone was friendly, in good spirits, and even offered to let other people approach the barricades surrounding the narrow entrance to the church to take a photograph of the proceedings. The small crowd of about seventy people was simply a delight to part of and was a good reminder of why I love Assisi.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Keyes
It seems news of the transfer of the San Damiano crucifix did not spread very far at all, even among the Assisians. One of the shopkeepers I spoke with said he only learned of the transfer yesterday morning as he walked through the piazza of Santa Chiara. He saw the city police, the military police, and people in hazmat suits. Fearing some tragedy he asked what happened and then learned of the transfer.

At any rate, we waited outside the church of San Damiano for about forty-five minutes. The weather was most pleasant, about 76 degrees, under a partly cloudy sky and a welcome relief from the stifling heat and humidity of Rome. The scent of wild flowers and freshly cut grass filled the air and a gentle breeze was frequently felt on our faces.

When at last the white van arrived transporting the San Damiano crucifix a great but calm excitement was felt among the crowd, not least of all because we could not quite figure how or where the van would park to unload its treasure.

In the end, it turned round and backed up toward the door of the church, parking in the division of the crowd so that most of the crowd could no longer see anything:

Not unexpectedly, many of us in the crowd began shifting positions. Whereas we had been standing just one or two deep along the barriers, we began to stand four and five deep, but closer to the entrance of the church. Still, there was minimal pushing and no shouting and it all seemed to be done in rather a civilized fashion. I found a nice step to stand on to improve my view as the crate containing the San Damiano crucifix was slowly and carefully removed from the van and carried into the church:

Why did I spend all that time trying to learn Italian?

Once the crate was inside the church, the small crowd began readjusting itself again, as some took up positions directly behind the van but facing the door of the church. I followed the lead of an Italian scout leader and an Italian nun and climbed up inside the van, but then the workmen returned and politely asked us to step out of the van so they could remove a few pieces of lumber. It was a good plan we had, at least.

Despite the narrow opening for photographs, we shifted from side to side to allow each other to get a few photographs of the crate lying on the floor of the church as the lid was removed and the friars gazed closely at the details of the image:

PHOTO: Jeffrey Keyes
Even some of the Poor Clares were present for the transfer of the crucifix before which Saint Clare prayed so frequently and fervently:

PHOTO: Jeffrey Keyes
After the friars and nuns finished looking upon the crucifix, the workmen began the process of lifting the crucifix into the brackets already mounted on the archway above the altar (I would have closed the doors to the church for this part of the day) and it was at this point that I watched the process unfold on an American woman's cell phone:

Father Keyes, however, was in a good position to see the installation of the crucifix, a process which must have filled the workmen with some trepidation:

PHOTO: Jeffrey Keyes

Once the workmen were confident the crucifix was secure in its new-old location, they began taking down the scaffold:

Since it was at this point a little after 1:00 p.m., Father Keyes and I decided to make our way to our favorite pizzeria, the Pizzeria Monaci, the best in Italy (their pizzas, in my mind, rank just after Chicago-style deep dish pizzas).

We then stopped by the tomb of Saint Francis which I picked up a few candles and touched them to his grave. Afterwards we stopped by a ceramics shop where I ordered a set of plates and bowls with a color combination that matches that of my coat of arms:

We then stopped by a couple of my favorite shops in Assisi and then returned to San Damiano for a good bit of time in prayer before returning to Rome. We found the small church already filling up at 4:30 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. Mass. At one point, a good number of elderly Italian women arrived together, but the pews were all filled. I gave my spot to one of the women and found a nice spot on the floor:

When it was time for us to catch our train, we left the church, but not before taking a couple additional photographs from the entrance:

Though I had planned to arrive in Assisi the day after the transfer of the crucifix, I am very happy that arrived on the day of the transfer. It was a great and enjoyable grace to be part of that historic day.

The San Damiano crucifix will remain in the church of San Damiano through Sunday evening and will be returned to Santa Chiara on, I believe, Monday morning.


  1. This is amazing! My husband and I are making a pilgrimage to Manoppello, then Loreto and Assisi soon. It's sort of a thanksgiving trip. The last time I was in Assisi I spent the entire time in St. Francis tomb praying for a son who who dying back home... he made it through and he and his wife are expecting their first son any day now. I now look forward to seeing all the things I missed like the crucifix of San Damiano! Wonderful post!

    1. Be sure to notice how smaller the face on the San Damiano is to the Volto Santo!