ROME – According to Father Padre Enrico Casini, rector of Rome’s Saint Marcellus church, which houses the so-called “miraculous crucifix” believed to have been damaged during a prayer event with Pope Francis, the harm is not serious and they are expecting to get the priceless treasure back soon.
Speaking to Crux, Casini said “it’s possible” that the crucifix suffered “a little bit” of damage, as it sat under a steady rainfall for around two hours, but from his understanding, “it’s something light that can be fixed in a short time.”
Dating to the 15th century, the crucifix gained a miraculous reputation after surviving a fire in 1519 which burned the original church housing it to the ground. According to tradition, the morning after the fire the crucifix was found completely intact, and since then it has become a point of reference for those seeking special graces.
In 1522, the crucifix was carried in procession throughout Rome for 16 days in the midst of a massive plague outbreak.
Pope Francis borrowed the crucifix for a March 27 extraordinary prayer service for an end to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which he held before an empty Square from the sagrato of St. Peter’s Basilica, meaning the platform at the top of the steps immediately in front of the façade of the church.
The service included an Urbi et Orbi blessing, “to the city and the world,” usually offered by popes only at Christmas and Easter.
Following the prayer event, reports emerged saying the crucifix had possibly been irreparably damaged due to the rain. Reports said the waterlogged wood had swollen up and burst apart in areas, and stucco coating Jesus’s body was seriously eroded.
It was also reported that a light layer of paint was rinsed off the ancient treasure, including tempera used to paint blood flowing from Jesus’s face were washed off, and that ripples had formed on the wood where Jesus’s hair is, with some details on the arms also being lost.
Casini confirmed that the crucifix was taken to the Vatican restoration labs after the pope’s prayer event Friday. Though he stressed that he does not have exact details, he said he has read the reports about the extent of the damage done, but in his view, “what was said is not correct.”
Representatives of the Vatican’s restoration labs, he said, “confirmed with us that there is nothing serious. It’s not in our hands, but we trust that there are no problems.”
“It was under the rain for some time,” so it’s possible that the crucifix was harmed in some way, but “It’s in good hands,” Casini said, voicing confidence that the crucifix is not ruined or beyond repair, as has been reported.
“I think it could even be better than before,” when it comes back after restoration, he said, “because it needed it.”
Rome-based art historian Liz Lev decried an exaggerated concern for the crucifix without an appreciation for the reality it depicts.
Whatever damage done to the crucifix “is secondary to the symbol of hope,” she said, noting that “The damage to the actual body of the real Christ was far worse.”
Reports lamenting the loss of “a precious piece of art such as the crucifix – a work that no one cared about until last week – run the risk of idolatry,” she said, because, “the object itself is more important than what the object stands for.”