The Lourdes seal combines the Franciscan coat of arms with that of Lourdes, France. Two circles, symbolic of the Franciscan cord and the rosary, enclose the vertically divided sea. The Lourdes field contains an eagle, holding a trout in its beak, perched atop a castle. Below are the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. In the 8th century the Saracens invaded France from Spain over the Pyrenees Mountains.
After their defeat at Poitiers in 732, remnants of their scattered army took refuge in Lourdes Castle, the strongest in the mountains, and held out for years against the Frank besiegers. Finally, Charlemagne himself took charge of the operations. One day, an eagle flew above the Castle of Lourdes with a trout in its beak. The Saracen leader, Mirat, sent the trout that the eagle dropped into the fortress, to Charlemagne with the message: “You will never starve us out. Heaven is on our side.”
Charlemagne was on the point of giving up the siege when the reigning bishop suggested that he call on them in the name of the Blessed Virgin. And so he did. Touched by divine grace, Mirat and his men surrendered not only to Charlemagne, but above all to Our Blessed Lady. They were converted and Mirat, the ex-Mohammedan leader, became the Christian governor of the little town of Lourdes. It was this town that was made famous by Mary’s apparitions to Bernadette in 1858.
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.
Pax et Bonum
Among the numerous works of art on campus, you will find tiles that proclaim this common Franciscan greeting. Francis of Assisi saw himself as a messenger of God’s peace. Armed with a joyful and passionate spirit, he dedicated his life to following in the footsteps of his Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ. Francis, however, didn’t feel called to live as a monk in a traditional monastery setting. He envisioned a new way of life. With the Gospel as his guide, he made the difficult choice to stand with his suffering brothers and sisters amid the chaos and confusion of everyday life. He chose to be an instrument of healing and a messenger of peace in the world.
Francis often greeted those whom he met with the simple phrase, “Pace e bene!” (in Latin, pax et bonum, peace and all good to you!). He urged his companions to greet everyone in a spirit of peace. Yet Francis knew that peace was more than a matter of words. He told his brothers, “As you announce peace with your words, make sure that greater peace is in your hearts…for we have been called to heal the wounded, to bind up the broken, and to recall the erring” (L3C 58).
With Francis we pray, Peace and all good to you!
Franciscan Coat of Arms
The Franciscan coat of arms which has its origin around the middle of the fifteenth century pictures two arms crossed against the background of a simple cross. The right unclothed arm of Christ passes over the left arm of Francis, which is clothed in a sleeve. Both hands bear the wound mark of a nail.
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.
The sign of the tau has been a significant symbol for both Jews and Christians down through the centuries. Originally the last letter of the ancient Hebrew alphabet, this cross-shaped symbol came to signify completion, or fulfillment. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision in which the residents of Jerusalem who remained true to God were sealed with the mark of the tau (Ez 9:4). The sign served as an exhortation to the Israelites to remain faithful to the last to their covenant with God. Tau was also the first letter of the torah, embodying the whole of the Hebrew Law which brings salvation.
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.
San Damiano Cross
The icon known as the Christ of San Damiano originally hung in the church of San Damiano in Assisi, Italy. It was painted by an unknown artist, most likely in the early 12th century.
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.