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The Franciscan field showing two arms crossed over the Greek letter tau signifies the mystical bond between the Franciscan and Christ. Francis wanted to live the Gospel, to be like Christ. So we see his arm crossed by that of Christ. His hand bears the wound of Christ. St. Francis favored the tau cross as a signature, a connection to the mark of God’s people spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel. The trees above the coat of arms recall the foundation of Lourdes in wooded Sylvania, the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes.
A window on the south wall of the second floor of Mother Adelaide Hall portrays the Lourdes seal in the form of a shield set in royal purple and Madonna blue background. On the left is the Lourdes coat of arms and on the right are emblems of Sylvania: a bell tower, the red-tiled roof of mission-style architecture, and a cluster of evergreen trees.
With Francis we pray, Peace and all good to you!
The arm of Francis set against the background of the cross shows his choice of that symbol as his distinguishing mark and represents his passionate desire to be conformed to Jesus his savior. The wound mark in the hand of Christ recalls His crucifixion; the wound mark in the hand of Francis recalls his having been given the stigmata two years before his death.
Among the early Christians, the sign of the tau came to be identified with the cross of Jesus, which was seen as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. Since the Cross – the Christian symbol of life and salvation – was the instrument which brought forgiveness to the human race, the tau was adopted by some members of the medieval penitential movement as a symbol of their newly embraced life of conversion. When Francis of Assisi embraced the penitential way of life at the end of the 12th century, he also adopted the mark of the tau as a sign of his conversion. Eventually, this symbol came to be specifically identified with Francis.
The tau has been worn by followers of Francis down to our own times. It continues to signify the Franciscan commitment to leading a life of conversion, that is, a life that expresses a total and profound interior response to God’s unconditional love and faithfulness.
As a young man, Francis of Assisi was praying before this crucifix in the tiny, dilapidated church when he heard the words, “Francis, go and rebuild my house, which as you see is falling into ruins.” Francis took this message literally and repaired the church with his own hands. Gradually, Francis came to realize that God was calling him to a more challenging task, that of rebuilding the Church – the people of God. Eventually Clare of Assisi and her community of Poor Ladies came to live at San Damiano and the crucifix became a central part of their prayer and life.
The original now hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi. To this day, the image of the cross of San Damiano holds a place of honor wherever Franciscans live and minister for it reminds us of our call to re-focus our lives and to accept the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel in our own times.
Refresh your spirit and learn about the Sisters of St. Francis and our Franciscan traditions with the campus mini-tour!
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