Historic cross installed at St Catherine of Siena church, Salt Lake City

  • Fr Jacek Buda OP

Image: Dc Lynn Johnson

Image: Dc Lynn Johnson

On the eve of the Feast of St Dominic, St Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah, yesterday installed as their main cross above the altar, a replica of the original Cross of the Stigmata, in front of which their patron saint mystically received the wounds of Christ on her hands and feet. This faithful replica, is the only known copy in the world of this crucifix, painted as St Catherine saw it in 1150. At 9.5 feet tall and 6.5 feet wide, the cross is roughly twice the size of the original, which hung in St Christina church in Pisa, then at St Catherine's house in Siena.

The cross was commissioned by Dominican Fr Jacek Buda OP, and the church's parish council six months ago, and was painted by Chicago artist Nadiya Savka. Savka's scrupulous attention to detail and original technique included researching archival x-ray photographs of the original, sourcing specially procured and aged wood to build the frame, placing canvas between eight layers of gesso, inventing new techniques to create the deep craquelure simulating a 200-year old painting (the age of the work when St Catherine prayed before it), and investigating other Pisa school crucifixes to re-create the missing top and bottom portions of the cross.

The faithful rendering of this cross marks a captivating piece of art history and restoration.

"This is an important moment for the Church around the world," said Fr Buda, "when we must go deeper into our faith in the face of infidelities and corruption. We are blessed with a patron saint who was a beacon of light and faith during a similar time of upheaval in the mid-1300s, and this cross connects us to her and Christ in a meaningful way."

The cross depicts Christ in his victory over death, Christus triumphans, with open eyes looking at you, a relaxed body, and wounds that are not emphasized. The top side panels show Mary, St John, and two other sorrowful figures and the bottom side panels show the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Christ. The mood of the cross is peace - Christ has achieved his victory. The original artist avoided imposing human emotions on Christ, respecting his inscrutable divinity.

In 1357, the Pope sent St Catherine to Pisa to convince the Pisans not to walk away from the true papacy. She went to the church of St Christina to pray for the Church and the world. In front of this very cross, she encountered Christ in a miraculous way. Blood-red rays came out from Christ's wounds and seared into her hands, heart and feet. These stigmata were invisible until her death, when they became visible to all.

Read more about St Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Centre: https://stcatherineslc.org/

Tags: St Catherine of Siena, St Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Centre, Salt Lake City, Utah, Fr Jacek Buda OP, Nadiya Savka.

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