St. Francis of Assisi

Why is St. Francis of Assisi depicted as taking Jesus from the cross when he lived almost 1,200 years after the Crucifixion?

I could specualte till I am blue in the face. The truth is only the artist; or the person who commissioned the art knows.

However; I would feel it has something to do with the fact St Francis was a Deacon; and a founder of Mendicant Orders; specifically Fransiscans. No doubt the artist or commissioner was a fan of either or both of these.

For many centuries it was quite customary and traditional in art to mix the Biblical with the modern. Donors (people who had paid for a painting) would be shown taking part in a Biblical scene; Biblical figures would be shown in modern dress walking around modern locations, etc. By way of illustration, here’s Ghirlandaio’s fresco The Nativity of Mary (circa 1485) from Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The decoration of the room and the style of the garments were all high Florentine fashion at the time:

Needless to say, we take a more “historical” view of the Bible today, and any artist who tried something similar would be hounded by some for “modernism” if not outright profanation.

I’ve read somewhere that the statue is not about St. Francis taking Christ off the cross, but that Christ reaches down and embraces the saint.

Not that the picture is too clear, but it appears that Jesus has blood on his chest, which would likely be from the Roman soldier piercing his side. Since that was done to determine that he was dead, it seems that we go back to Francis appearing to take down His corpse from the cross.

St. Francis experienced the stigmata. The painting is based on a vision he had regarding Christ asking him to reform and help rebuild the Church. It is a common theme of Franciscans.

If I’m not mistaken, Francis believed he was asked to rebuild churches, not the Church. That means physical buildings versus the Body of Christ; big difference.

that is how I interpreted it as well…

The picture IS St Francis embracing Christ - that is actually the title of the most famous painting on the subject, by Murillo. He’s not taking Him down off the cross or anything.

Certainly St Francis identified with and loved Our crucified Lord so deeply that he himself received Our Lord’s wounds, the stigmata. The artist, I’d imagine, is representing that love and self-identification of Francis with Christ.

That’s not what rpp meant. St Francis had that vision/locution whilst praying in front of the crucifix in the church of San Damiano. So rpp, it seems, thinks it might be a representation of that event - Christ speaking to Francis from the crucifix.

But I don’t think it is - the San Damiano crucifix has a very unique style which doesn’t tally at all with the portrayal in the painting.

And you’re only partially right - initially, St Francis did think it meant physical repair of churches, and he started with San Damiano itself, which was ruined.

However, when he went to Rome the Pope told him of a dream he had in which Francis actually held up a crumbling church building. The Pope understood this dream to mean that Francis would be a pillar of support and strength for THE Church. And, I’m sure, told Francis the same.

At first Francis thought it meant physical churches but later came to understand that God was calling him to rebuild the Church.

Thank you, Lily. That is closer to what I meant. I did manage to conflate the entire life of one of the greatest saints into two sentences so I left out a bit of detail. St. Francis did indeed believe at first that his vision in from of San Damiano was to rebuild that particular church building. It was not until later, as you pointed out, when he went to Rome in order to start his order, and where he meant St. Dominic, that the two of them realized that it was not a church that needed rebuilding but the Church. Both set about it according the call; St. Francis in contemplative and missionary work and St. Benedict in learning, teaching and preaching. (St. Francis and St. Dominic were great and famous friends. Today, each of their orders celebrates the the other.)

The painting, as others have pointed out, is of St. Francis embracing Christ, not taking Him down. St. Francis had a number of visions and, as I pointed out earlier, he had the stigmata. If I am not mistaken, one of his visions in later life put him at the foot of the cross and was the inspiration of the painting.

The first time I came across this representation of St. Francis helping Jesus down from his Cross, I was utterly stunned ( I may add; to the point of tears.) It is so obvious! We, by way of our sinfulness, have nailed Jesus to the Cross. St. Francis, through his goodness and his kind acts; literally, and in fact, has helped Jesus down from his Cross.

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