The Chapel of Saint Francis of Assisi
Artwork by James Langley
The artwork in the Chapel of Saint Francis of Assisi was commissioned by artist James Langley, who paints from his studio in Savannah, Georgia. The chapel’s artwork is one-of-a-kind.
Note: It is common to start at the right and look at each painting in a linear way, but it is important to start in the center and roll left to right looking at the relationships and complimentarity between the paintings. Look at how the angel is low and Mary is high and how Jesus is high and Mary Magdalene is low … Lady Poverty, high, St. Francis, low. Also note the comparison of the trees in the first and last paintings. His work desires to claim the beauty of the body.
The Primordial Sacrament Under the Tree of Knowledge
Marriage is the primordial (first) sacrament.
Their bodies are beautiful (good) … they are naked (innocent), yet the snake is present (temptation). The snake is gold, to represent the idolatry that sin is, and the darkening foreshadows original sin.
True stewardship of creation extends to our bodies. The goodness of sex and the harmony that exists between our body and our mind and between the sexes must be understood as part of the beauty and order of creation.
The Ecstasy of St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata
Here, St. Francis is on a hill overlooking Assisi. The gold in the tree is meant to evoke the burning bush and God’s revelation to Moses. Christ reveals himself to St. Francis who receives the stigmata (wounds of Christ). There is more to St. Francis than being a lover of animals (he is often shown with birds all over him). St. Francis SEES God’s presence in nature (incarnate in nature). St. Francis identifies with Jesus’ suffering, which is the central insight into St. Francis’ vocation.
Artist James Langley is not the only artist to paint the Angel Gabriel without wings. Michelangelo also did.
The angel’s attitude expresses divine humility. He is kneeling in a proposal to Mary. Gabriel’s coming down raises her up ... this is a divine proposal as the angel presents (offers) a dove to her.
Mary is represented as strong and fertile. She represents all women and their feminine genius. Her virgin motherhood is the rebirth of the world, the new Eve (mother of all the living).
San Damiano Icon Cross
San Damiano Icon Cross is the one before which St. Francis was praying when he received the commission from the Lord to rebuild the Church. The original cross presently hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare Church in Assisi, Italy. All Franciscans cherish this cross as the symbol of their mission from God. The cross is called an icon cross.
The name of the painter is unknown. The purpose of an icon cross was to teach the meaning of the event depicted and thereby strengthen the faith of the people.
James Langley tried to image St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun” with the gold vines coming from the cross and he incorporated the sun, moon and stars. The vines stem from the cross (tree of life) because St. Francis understood that the beauty of creation is a sign of God’s love. The Incarnation reminds us that all creation is good.
When we genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, this crucifix reminds us that we are genuflecting before the Son of God who redeems all Creation. The entire cosmos reflects God’s self-giving love, so our relationship with Christ should transform and transcend all of our relationships.
“Do Not Cling to Me”
The Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene. In John, Chapter 20, we learn that going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb. A man who Mary thought was a gardener, asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She asks the “gardener” if he knew where Jesus’ body was taken. Jesus then calls Mary by her name. She was the first to see the Risen Lord. She reaches for Jesus, who responds: “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” She then announces the Risen Lord to the Apostles.
Mr. Langley desired that one sees in this work the “holy friendship” between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the truth that should be reflected in the friendships of all. Mary Magdalene is yearning for the human experience of friendship … something we all do.
St. Clare Defending Her Cloister
The predatory bird depicts mercenaries who tried to ransack St. Clare’s convent. The dove she is holding is meant to symbolize the “precious items” she protected -- the Eucharist, chastity and purity and her vocation, her cloister, her sisters. The artist tried to portray her as a strong woman. The garden represents the closed garden of virginity. Consecrated life is complementary to married life. There also was a holy friendship between St. Clare and St. Francis.
Mystical Marriage of St. Francis with Lady Poverty Under the Tree of Life
This painting shows the cross as the tree of life. Lady Poverty is not depicted as old and haggard but young and beautiful, because in this metaphor the holiness associated with embracing poverty should be attractive.
Lady Poverty is high and St. Francis bows to her. All humanity needs to learn how to kneel before her.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -- Mt 5:3.
Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint Francis of Assisi at Bishop Luers High School were once in the chapel of a Benedictine monastery in England.
In connection with Bishop Luers' Franciscan history, here is the Franciscan Way of the Cross.
Jesus Condemned to Death
O Jesus! so meek and uncomplaining, teach me resignation in trials.
Jesus Carries His Cross
My Jesus, this Cross should be mine, not Thine; my sins crucified Thee.
Our Lord Falls the First Time
O Jesus! by this first fall, never let me fall into mortal sin.
Jesus Meets His Mother
O Jesus! may no human tie, however dear, keep me from following the road of the Cross.
Simon the Cyrenean Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
Simon unwillingly assisted Thee; may I with patience suffer all for Thee.
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
O Jesus! Thou didst imprint Thy sacred features upon Veronica’s veil; stamp them also indelibly upon my heart.
The Second Fall of Jesus
By Thy second fall, preserve me, dear Lord, from relapse into sin.
Jesus Consoles the Women of Jerusalem
My greatest consolation would be to hear Thee say: “Many sins are forgiven thee, because thou hast loved much.”
Third Fall of Jesus
O Jesus! when weary upon life’s long journey, be Thou my strength and my perseverance.
Jesus Stripped of His Garments
My soul has been robbed of its robe of innocence; clothe me, dear Jesus, with the garb of penance and contrition.
Jesus Nailed to the Cross
Thou didst forgive Thy enemies; my God, teach me to forgive injuries and FORGET them.
Jesus Dies on the Cross
Thou art dying, my Jesus, but Thy Sacred Heart still throbs with love for Thy sinful children.
Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
Receive me into thy arms, O Sorrowful Mother; and obtain for me perfect contrition for my sins.
Jesus Laid in the Sepulchre
When I receive Thee into my heart in Holy Communion, O Jesus, make it a fit abiding place for Thy adorable Body. Amen.