Monday, September 03, 2007

The Crucifix That Once Was Lost and Now Is Found



This article was published in the Fall 2005 issue of the Northside Newsletter and in two installments in the Valley Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of San José, on September 20 and October 18, 2005, with some edits in each publication. It is a companion piece to SS Sacratissimus Crucifixus to Holy Cross: Northside San Jose Church History Click here for more photos.

Rosalia Villegas, parishioner at Holy Cross parish, San Jose, provided much of the information in this article about how a precious crucifix from Italy that once hung behind the altar was thrown away, and then rescued, stored in a garage, and finally returned to the church almost forty years later. Rosalia and her husband José are choir leaders, and they are part of a number of very-active Filipino parishioners at the parish.

In 1966, then-pastor Father Joseph Bolzon installed a new altar to face the congregation. During the remodeling, the 10 foot painted and gilded wooden crucifix that had formerly hung from the half-dome behind the altar was removed along with a marble Pieta and fourteen painted stations of the cross.

The crucifix in use after the remodeling was a much-smaller one that topped a gold tabernacle. The tabernacle was kept on a table behind the altar in front of a black marble backdrop with a gold-embossed depiction of the Last Supper.

Villegas said that both their sons were baptized while the black marble piece was in place, before another pastor, Father Mario Rauzi, did another renovation that removed the black marble piece some time in the 1970s. The walls behind the altar are now all made up of lighter marble, and a much-simpler smaller crucifix from the 70s occupies the center panel. A mural by well-known local artist, Anthony Quartuccio, was painted in the half dome in 1977.

By the time the first crucifix was removed, it had faded from the parish memory that the installation of the crucifix and the stations of the cross had been an important event. An item in the “Church News of the Week” section of The Monitor on 9/21/1907 reported about the erection of a large crucifix over the main altar on Sunday 9/17, and it lauded the stations of the cross as “beautiful oil paintings, imported from Italy.” (The Monitor was the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and Holy Cross was part of the San Francisco archdiocese at the time.)

Rosalia Villegas is Godmother (comadre) to Gloria Villaluz, daughter of Soledad Vallejo. Rosalia recalls that Vallejo, who was the church caretaker in 1966, rescued the crucifix, stations, and statues. Vallejo kept the Pieta in her family’s living room and stored the crucifix and the stations in the garage of her house on the 300 block of North 9th Street. For some time, Vallejo dreamed of building a small chapel in the Philippines to house everything, but eventually gave up the dream because the logistics would have been too hard to manage.

When Vallejo died in the past few years, her daughter, who by that time had moved away first thought she would donate the crucifix and the stations to her church in Fresno. The difficulties she would face in transporting the crucifix to Fresno led her to contact Brother Charles Muscat, C.S., the Director of Religious Education, to ask if Holy Cross would want the crucifix back. Soledad’s son took the Pieta; her daughter took the stations; and Holy Cross took back the crucifix, which by that time was in broken in pieces. Brother Charles’s brother, Grezio Muscat, put the pieces back together while visiting from Canada for a month, and the brothers got the patched-together crucifix hung in one of the classrooms.

The current pastor Father Orso, C.S., hired David Dittmann, a Santa Clara art restoration expert, to restore the crucifix, which as it turns out is an irreplaceable piece of art that was originally crafted in Italy. Dittmann told this reporter that the crucifix was crafted of close-grained, knot-free joined wood that was skillfully aged beforehand to prevent shrinkage, a quality of wood that would be impossible to obtain today. The body of Christ, the corpus, is painted, and the wood of the cross is gilded. A small painting of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is at the head of the cross, and another small painting of Our Lady with John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalen is at the foot. The arms have silvered representations of the symbols of the four Gospel writers, the lion, the eagle, the ox, and the man.

Dittmann is currently reapplying 23 carat gold leaf on the front of the cross, resilvering the symbols of the Gospel writers, and finishing the repainting of the corpus and small pictures on the cross. Dittmann’s work will be completed in time for unveiling on the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross on September 14 after the 6:30 p.m. Mass. As Dittmann’s wife, Regina, said when the couple was being interviewed for this article, “The Triumph of the Holy Cross is the Resurrection. And the triumph of this little cross is its resurrection.” On the feast day, the rescued and resurrected crucifix will be reinstalled in a place of honor behind the altar after almost forty years absence.
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