Cross of the Pelican, 15th century altar crucifix from the Abbey of Saint Eutizio in Piedivalle di Preci, near Perugia, was restored after it was nearly destroyed in the earthquake that devastated central Italy in 2016.
The cross in tempera on wood was made by Nicola di Ulisse di Siena around 1472 for the abbey church of Saint Eutizio. His composition, devoid of the figures of mourners found in other examples of the time, was inspired by the contemplation of the death of Christ. It hangs from a bare wooden cross against a plain blue background. The cross has a shamrock on top, where the INRI sign is usually placed, containing a pious pelican tearing open its own chest to feed three chicks with its blood, a popular symbol of the sacrifice of Christ in the Middle Ages.
The abbey was founded by Syrian monks fleeing persecution after the ecumenical councils in the 5th or 6th century. The travertine spur is dotted with natural caves that appeal to the hermit style of cenobitic monks. It began as an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary. St. Evtitsiy expanded it to a cenobitic monastery and became its rector. After his death in 540 AD, the church was named after him. The monastery evolved from its ascetic origins during the reign of Saint Benedict and grew exponentially. It reached the peak of its regional importance and ownership in the 12th century.
The church is located on a terrace between a valley and a rocky spur with caves of hermits. When an earthquake in October 2016 devastated the area, a spur of rock collapsed and the ensuing landslide hit the monastery. The crucifix was thrown to the ground and broken. The fragments lay in rubble for several weeks. Firefighters worked with three dozen restorers from the Vatican Museums to restore every altar piece they could find.
The cross was in disrepair, broken into more than 30 fragments with areas of complete loss. Due to a religious goal, the Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia and the Umbrian Administration decided to try to completely restore the painted image, the figure of Christ and the pelican, instead of preserving only what survived. In July 2018, specialists from the restoration laboratories of the Vatican Museums began collecting mosaics. They reassembled the fragments and restored the missing pieces, placing the cross on a new wooden support structure to make it stable enough to take its place over the altar again. The painted surface is re-glued and the discolored varnish is removed. Then the lost areas were recreated. Finally, the perimeter gilded frame was restored in solid gold, according to the traditional method used in the 15th century.
The restored cross is exhibited in the Vatican Museums. This autumn, it will be on display in Spoleto at the Church of St. Euphemia, before returning to the main altar of the Abbey of St. Euthicio.
This video documents the disaster and hard work that followed to bring the crucifix back from the abyss. There are no comments, but you will not miss it, because the photographs and the film themselves eloquently convey the restoration process. (With a slight improvement from two parts of Rock Me Amadeus to one part of LadyHawke.)