By Vatican News
Holy Week, the most important season of the liturgical year, begins in St Peter’s under the gaze of the Crucifix from the Church of San Marcello. It is in the background at the center of the altar. It is the Miraculous Crucifix, which escaped the fire of 1519 unharmed and was borne in procession to halt the plague. Dating back to the late fourteenth century, this wooden image has gone through the city of Rome many times. The last time was twenty-five years ago when St John Paul II wanted it present during the Day of Forgiveness during the Jubilee Year in 2000. During this crisis, Pope Francis had decided to pay a visit to the Church in order to pray before the crucifix. Then, he wanted it to be present before an empty St Peter’s Square for the Statio Orbis, the prayer over which he presided to implore and end to the pandemic.
Friday, 27 March: it was raining. That Crucifix, that image on which the Bishop of Rome, together with tens of millions of people connected through TV, radio and internet, gazed. Even though it had been placed near the façade of the Basilica, the Crucifix got wet by the pouring rain. Contrary to what some people had reported, the work of art did not undergo grave or significant damage. This can be seen, thanks to the fact that it has once again reappeared central to the Palm Sunday liturgy. It required only some minor retouching, done on a single morning, by art restoration experts from the Vatican Museum, in agreement with the appropriate Italian authorities. The minor retouching were related to small pieces that had become detached. Some of the damage was pre-existent, while other damage happened as a result of being moved. These minor and rapid interventions secured the safety of the work of art, which will return to the Church of St Marcello after the Easter Triduum.
Art in the Christian tradition
Within the Christian tradition, art and beauty have always played a fundamental role to help believers enter into the mystery of Sacred Scripture, the liturgy, and prayer. This particular Crucifix is an image that has accompanied the history of the Eternal City, taking to itself the pain, the prayers, the hope and devotion of those dwelling there.
Therefore, its present in front of St Peter’s Square on 27 March, and now inside the Basilica for the Easter liturgies, has profound significance. Many, many people throughout the world, in this moment of pain, when more than 50,000 lives have already been claimed by the pandemic, would have immediately understood its significance.