One day as Francis was praying in the little dilapidated church of San Damiano, he heard a voice: “Francis, repair my church which you see is falling into ruin.” The voice came straight out of a large painted crucifix which hung from the wall. Francis took these words literally and so immediately set out to re-construct the little church outside the walls of Assisi.
An unknown Umbrian artist painted the Crucifix Icon in the 12th Century. There is strong Syrian influence and history tells us that there were some Syrian monks in the area.
It was painted on wood (walnut) to which cloth had been glued. It is approximately 190cm high by 120cm wide and 12cm thick. More than likely it was painted to hang over the altar at San Damiano since the Blessed Sacrament was not usually reserved in non-parish churches and chapels in those times, especially in those that had been neglected or abandoned as San Damiano was.
In 1257, after Clare’s body had been transferred, the Poor Clares left San Damiano for San Giorgio and took the crucifix with them. They carefully kept it for 700 years in the cloister chapel.
In Holy Week of 1957, it was placed on public view for the first time over the new altar in San Giorgio’s Chapel in the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi.
I come, O Lord, unto Thy sanctuary to see the life and food of my soul. As I hope in Thee, O Lord, inspire me with that confidence which brings me to Thy holy mountain. Permit me, Divine Jesus, to come closer to Thee, that my whole soul may do homage to the greatness of Thy majesty; that my heart, with its tenderest affections, may acknowledge Thine infinite love; that my memory may dwell on the admirable mysteries here renewed every day, and that the sacrifice of my whole being may accompany Thine.
What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.