The San Damiano Crucifix

Sept. 18-24, 2003
The San Damiano Crucifix
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
SU students create crucifix, mixing traditional themes with symbols of campus life

In the autumn of 1205, St. Francis of Assisi knelt in prayer before the cross in the ruined San Damiano Church in Assisi, Italy. The symbols on the San Damiano crucifix not only portrayed the mystery of the crucifixion, but also represented the mysteries of the resurrection and the ascension. The cross and the church were made famous by St. Francis who, while meditating, heard Christ call him by name telling him, “Francis, go repair My house, which is falling in ruins.” At the Alibrandi Catholic Center on Syracuse University’s campus, 12 students, along with artist Friar Brian Haverlock, OFM, Conv., created a unique version of the famous cross –– a version that represents campus life. “For four weeks, five nights a week, students gathered to work on the project,” said Father Tim Mulligan, OFM, Conv. “A lot of time, work and enthusiasm went into the project.”

Student Adriana Posada explained the significance of the symbols included in the cross. “The border of the cross has most of the countries’ flags around it that represent the international aspect of the university. The upper side of Jesus’ crown is the hall of languages. At the bottom of the cross is a picture of St. Francis and St. Thomas More, which represent the Alibrandi Center and the Franciscan influence,” said Posada. “It also has pictures of things that are common on campus –– the Dome, Otto, Marshall Street, books, a slice of pizza [typical food for students] and pasta. Every Thursday we have fettuccini with the Franciscans at the Center,” she explained. “The cross represents Christ on campus,” said Claudia Smith, another student and participant in the project. “It’s a constant reminder to me that He is with us in all that we do and He carries us through this period of our lives.” Felica Zuniga, from the Philippines, is graduate student at SU. She thinks of the Alibrandi Center as home away from home. “When I was asked to participate in making the cross, I though it was a great chance to thank the center for all it has done for my spiritual growth,” said Zuniga. “Instead of giving back to the Alibrandi Center, I believe that it has given me more with this experience.”

The idea of making the San Damiano crucifix came about during the summer when students who worship at the Alibrandi Center asked Father Tim why the main chapel didn’t have a cross with Christ’s image on it. Father Tim knew that Friar Brian, an artist and a Franciscan, would be in Syracuse for the summer. He suggested that the students take advantage of the friar’s presence and ask him to guide them in making the cross. Marites Guino-O said that working on the cross was addictive. “At the end of the day, I looked forward to going to the Alibrandi Center to work on the cross because it became a part of me. When I was finished, I was just in awe because we had done something that was hard to do,” said Guino-O. “I kept remembering the parable of talents. ‘For those who have more, more will be given.’ I don’t consider myself a good artist, but He used me and others to become good artists in order to make that cross.” The cross also contains pictures representative of the Catholic faith, including scenes of Jesus’ life, a picture of the Virgin Mary and a picture of St. Joseph. Jesus’ body is made up of quotations from Scripture. In the middle of the cross, the students used orange, blue and green, the colors of SU and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“For me, the cross is one of the most important elements of my faith,” said Posada. “It represents hope, love, strength and sacrifice. In other words, the cross represents what Jesus did and is willing to do again and again for each of us. It is a constant reminder of His love for us.” Smith agreed. “Making the cross gave me moments of joy, peace, sharing and community with my fellow students,” said Smith. “Artistically, it brought out some of my inner beauty and talents. My greatest lesson was knowing how others felt about saints and Christ –– both traditional and contemporary perceptions.” In addition to the spiritual lessons learned, other valuable lessons emerged from the creation of the cross. “I learned teamwork and patience and about respecting others’ religious preferences,” said Smith. “We had to chose from various ideas on what to put on the cross. We did struggle with some of the decisions.” “I wouldn’t have dreamed of being a part of such a great work. I often joked when making the cross that I came here to study economics and now I’m working with a famous artist and becoming an artist myself,” said Smith. “Brother Brian inspired me in that he saw the beauty in everything –– even our biggest mistakes.” Ronald Lerum agreed. “It took teamwork and all of our underdeveloped artistic talent to put together a masterpiece,” he said. “Without teamwork, it would not be as wonderful as it is now.” Praying before the crucifix changed the course of St. Francis’ life. In recreating the famous icon, the students at Syracuse University also had a life enhancing experience. “Making the cross was a wonderful experience both spiritually and artistically,” said Posada. “I feel happy and proud to have participated in the project.

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