A massive replica of the centuries-old, icon-style Cross of the Stigmata was installed earlier this week inside the St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center near the University of Utah.
St. Catherine of Siena, the center’s patron saint, is said to have mystically received the wounds — or stigmata — of Christ on her hands and feet in 1375.
The cross was commissioned by Pastor Jacek Buda and the church’s parish council six months ago. It was painted by artist Nadiya Savka, a native of Ukraine who now lives and works in Chicago.
Savka previously had created a religious art piece for Salt Lake City’s St. Ambrose Catholic Church.
The Newman Center cross stands 9.5 feet tall and 6.5 feet wide and is roughly twice the size of the original, which hung in St. Christina church in Pisa, then at St. Catherine’s house in Siena, Italy.
It is believed to be the only known replica of the Cross of the Stigmata installed in a church, Buda said.
For the cross, Savka researched archival photographs of the original cross and sourced a special type of basswood for the piece. It took a carpenter two months to build and another two months for Savka to sand and paint.
“The biggest challenge,” she said in an interview Thursday, “was to get the right size of the craquelure” to make it look old. The technique she finally used was developed by chance — or maybe miracle.
“I misplaced the lid to the paint product, and it dried out a bit," she explained. But it was just what she needed to create the aged effect. “It turned out really beautiful on the hardwood.”
Shipping the massive piece to Utah proved too costly, said Savka. So the artist — and her sister — rented a moving truck and delivered it to the Salt Lake City parish in person.
“We are blessed with a patron saint who was a beacon of light and faith during a similar time of upheaval in the mid-1300s,” Buda said, "and this cross connects us to her and Christ in a meaningful way.”