St. Francis mosaic
Our magnificent wall mosaic of St. Francis delights and inspires visitors. Many people focus on it during their prayers.
Made of glazed tiles and shards, it is titled “Canticle of the Creatures” and shows the humble saint praising God for Creation.
The mosaic was designed in 1968 by Belgian Fr. Louis Fransen, a member of the Scheut Missionaries.
Fr. Louis taught at Tokyo University of the Arts. He and his students collected the tiles during their travels around Japan, and they pieced together the mosaic.
Born in Belgium in 1928, Fr. Louis retired to Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and later to Saitama Prefecture. He died in 2010.
He also designed the two concrete reliefs on the front of the building. They were made by sculptor Yoshino Tsuyoshi around 1968.
Cross of San Damiano
The Crucifix behind the altar is a representation of the Cross of San Damiano, which played a central role in the story of St. Francis.
“In the final stages of conversion, St. Francis was asking the Lord for direction, and he went to this small chapel just outside the walls of Assisi,” says Fr. Callistus Sweeney. “This figure of Jesus was there, in an old run-down chapel. The building was falling to pieces.
“When he was praying he heard a voice telling him, ‘Francis, rebuild my Church.’ He understood this as the Lord telling him to rebuild the chapel, which he did.”
The Crucifix portrays Christ without pain, having already overcome suffering and grief. His arms are bent in a praying posture. This is Christ in control throughout his Passion.
Other images on the Crucifix are of saints and people present at the Crucifixion. Those around Jesus’ feet are no longer discernible.
All Franciscans cherish this cross as the symbol of their mission from God to commit their lives and resources to renew and rebuild the Church in the power of God.
Today the Crucifix of San Damiano hangs in the Basilica of Santa Chiara, at the headquarters of the Poor Clares in Assisi.
This scroll-style hanging picture of St. Francis by French-Japanese calligraphist Jaure Harada was done in brush and ink style.
Harada taught calligraphy at a Buddhist temple near JR Ebisu station.
Wood block prints
The Franciscan Chapel Center has four prints by Christian artist and cloth dyer Sadao Watanabe, born in Tokyo in 1913.
“Sermon of St. Francis to the Birds” (1970) hangs outside the main chapel, and “Crucifixion” (1971) is in the small chapel.
The other two in the FCC’s collection are “Washing of the Feet” (1972) and “Deposition” (1973).
The Franciscan Chapel Center has a powerful three-manual electric organ generously donated by a parishioner.
For a long time it had a 1930s Walker pipe organ brought to Japan by conductor Karl Richter, who toured and recorded in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s.
The pipe organ was considered a rarity in Japan. It is now in a church in Nikko.
You won’t see this, but it’s worth a mention: In 1975 the main chapel was the stage and auditorium for an unusual performance, the story of St. Francis told as noh drama, with a chorus of priests and lay people.
“The original production was at Earlham College in Indiana in 1970,” scholar Donald Richie wrote, in a review for The Japan Times. “Noh player Arthur Little wrote it, Leonard Holvik composed the music (fue and three traditional drums with chorus) and Edward Yates carved the masks. Now it is being revived in Tokyo in a production directed by Don Kenney.”
Richie continued: “A comparison with Yeats’ noh plays suggests itself, and these experiments do indeed share a concern for ritual, intensified emotion, theatrical unity and a reality which transcends appearances. … The text is beautifully constructed and, though in English, very noh-like.”
Fr. Girard Abel OFM played the role of Shite, or St. Francis, and Waki, a friar, was played by Nobuyoshi Fukuda.
There were three performances at the Franciscan Chapel Center in March and April 1975. Audience members received a copy of the libretto in English and Japanese, and the event was covered by NHK and other Japanese media.