In Your Midst
Image of the Divine
March 2007


Lenten Cross St. James CathedralEach year during the season of Lent, a distinctive crucifix is carried in the processions at Mass.  The black figure of the crucified Christ stands out starkly against the pale wood of the cross, forming a suitable meditation for this season of prayer and fasting.  But there is more to the “Lenten cross,” as it is called, than meets the eye.  This beautiful work of art is the result of a near-tragedy.

Shortly after midnight on March 8, 1992, a mentally ill man broke into the Cathedral.  After rifling the votive boxes, he set fires in two places—in the basement vesting area, and in the south sacristy.  The three-alarm fire brought more than eighty firefighters to St. James Cathedral, along with twelve fire trucks and six ladder trucks.  It took them 35 minutes to get the blaze under control.

When the flames finally subsided, $1,000,000 in damage had been done.  The roof of the Chapel was partially destroyed, and stained glass windows in the sacristy had been shattered.  Dozens of vestments, candlesticks, and other objects were irreparably damaged by smoke and fire.  And the crucifix hanging in the priests’ vesting area—a pale wood corpus on a cross painted red—was blackened beyond recognition.  The fire had taken a severe toll, but it was providential that it had been contained before it could reach into the Cathedral itself.

When the process of cleaning up began, the crucifix that had been destroyed was taken down from where it still hung.  The cross immediately fell to pieces, but the corpus itself proved to be intact, though completely blackened by the blaze.  Parishioner Frank Robl created a new cross, to which the blackened crucifix was mounted.

The first letter of St. Peter reminds us:  “You rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The Lenten cross, “tested by fire,” is a reminder of the God who never fails to bring good out of evil, and a most powerful representation of the Lord who brought life out of death, and who leads all of us from the darkness and pain of Good Friday to the fullness of Easter joy. t

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