On the cimasa of the Geneseo Crucifix, a mother Pelican is feeding her children with her own blood. It is an old Christian symbol of a loving mother who sacrificed her life for the children, emphasizing the love of a suffering Christ for humans. The image of the Pelican speaks of the natural love, which is unconditional and sometimes can be very painful. On the cross, “the Word through whom all things were made, humbled himself, taking the lowly condition of man, yet remaining divine in his person” (Rev. Father John Eudes Bamberger), obeyed his Father’s will for the salvation of mankind until death through the blood of his cross. The Holy Spirit is depicted on Christ’s forehead. A suggested line drawing of a bird can be seen on Christ’s neck. The presence of the Holy Spirit is also seen at the lower parts of the terminals, painted in a smoky white color. These symbols are connected as in the sign of the cross.
At the terminals, the wheat and the grapevines symbolize the bread and the wine, which become Christ’s flesh and blood. His body and blood, together with the Spirit are special graces to nourish and transform God’s children and to ready them for the promise of the everlasting life. Also on the ends of the terminals, pulling up the crucified Christ on the cross are the angels, wearing the traditional funerary white headbands of Vietnam.
On the apron, standing on Christ’s right side is his Blessed Mother, the faithful handmaid of the Lord who is in anguish accepting the sword piercing through her heart which was foretold by Simeon the prophet. Also, standing beside the crucified body is St. John the beloved who points Jesus out to us through his gesture and his Gospel. He is the one whom Christ referred to when he said: “Woman, this is your son” (John 19,26). Standing under an arch, which represents the Church, Mary and St. John are significant as two of first members of the Christian Church, Mother and Son. Christ is the head, and we, Christians are family, his body. Mary’s right hand appears to catch the water and blood that are gushing forward from Christ’s side. This image is parallel to the idea of being born again in Christ. Theologically, Christ’s blood must shed so that the blood covenant from the Saviour’s fountains flows “…into devout hearts, waters the whole earth and makes it fertile” (128, Bonaventure). Accepting the faith, John presents Christ who, “was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came to be…that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower” (John 1,2-5). That light is depicted through the warm and cool colors for the background. Starting with a layer of red which stands for blood, then comes orange and yellow which represent the coming of the light. Christ is that light who has risen. He is the beginning and the end, the eternity. That light is the sun that rises and sets. It is the Son who rises and falls according to the will of the Father whose love opens our eyes to the mystery of why Christ had to go through the Passion. This suffering opens the door to the spiritual reign where we are taught and guided by the Holy Spirit who will lead us to union with God.
The presence of the thieves on the crosses, painted in a small scale, takes the viewers back to the moment of the Crucifixion. The thieves remind us that God’s love and his forgiveness are granted to all creatures of God as long as they have faith in his loving mercy. One cannot see God until he is ready. He cannot be ready until he is purified. He cannot be purified until he allows himself to be cleansed. He cannot know he is in the mud until he sees himself with the mirror of his inner soul, which only God knows best. Ultimately, it is his open and generous response to God’s grace that will save him. We must reflect on our lives to understand this mystery of the Cross. Falling from time to time in the deep mud, one must trust in the God’s loving mercy like that of a mother’s for her child, to allow to be cleansed and therefore to be the children of the Kingdom.
At the base is St. Francis of Assisi. Surrounded by different shades of warm and cool colors of nature, Francis is depicted with a willing spirit and a faithful heart. Being small and humble, the opportunity to sit at Christ’s feet might be all Francis would ask for. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in his sermon 3 On the Song of Songs about the kiss of the Lord’s feet, hand and mouth, humbly, Francis is grateful to be there at “the kiss of the Lord’s feet”. When Francis was alive, with all that he had accomplished, he told his brothers: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress”, (Habig, 318). Francis’s foot rests on Monte La Verna where he received the stigmata. The background painting is a combination of real scenes from Monte La Verna. At the lower right corner of the base, the scene literally depicted as “the Way” of which Christ said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14,6). The viewers are welcome to enter the Way where it will lead to the Truth and the Life. Only through God’s grace, is one able to comprehend the mystery of the Crucifixion, and therefore, to understand the meanings of “the Way, the Truth and the Life”. Right under Francis’s garment is a small view of the cliffs of La Verna. It is in the style of Giotto’s Stigmatization in his fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Overlapping the cross and holding on to Christ’s feet, St. Francis seems to float in space. Like all the Saints and Blesseds, Holy men and Women throughout the ages, he is with Christ. He has entered into that spiritual reign and is inviting us to follow him. Christ, the first human has opened the door to heaven. Our human brothers and sisters have gone there, and so can we.
At the very bottom of the Crucifix is the skull of Adam receiving the blood of Christ (I tried to have very little control over the depiction of Christ’s blood. I applied the drops of red paint and let them freely run down the surface. I painted the wounds and the blood of Christ at noon on Good Friday. I told myself that what appeared to be, let it be). The symbol stands for the forgiveness of humanity’s first sin, a sin that gained for us so great a redeemer.
The Geneseo Crucifix is a modern work rooted in the thirteenth century. From the inspiration that I was given and the compassion I have had for Francis whom I have learned and known of through travel and influences from many people, I gathered and finished this creative process with the intention of offering a compassionate, loving, and merciful Christ who suffered for us all on the cross and is continuing to teach us fervently through the Holy Spirit for the salvation of mankind.
I pray that the Geneseo Crucifix and these words which I have written about it can somehow be at least an inspiration and hope to all who encounter them, especially those who are touched by either his Crucified Son or other ways by the magic touch of the Holy Spirit. May God give us the grace to always have that deep desire to do good deeds and respond generously to his invitation to the “the Way, the Truth and the Life” that leads to everlasting happiness, peace and joy in him who is all in all.
Taken from Minhhang’s thirteen page presentation. “Painting a Thirteenth Century Crucifix on the Eve of the Twentieth Century” written on April 27,1997 (Revised January 18, 2001) (C)All rights reserved.
At the present time, the Geneseo Crucifix is on display at St. Bonaventure Main Library.
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