St. Mary Mission

P.O. Box 39
Tohatchi, NM 87325

The Story of the Cross

Linda Benton, of Cherokee ancestry, worked at St. Mary Mission, Tohatchi, New Mexico – Navajoland. She came as a volunteer in Spring, 1994. Among other things, she was artistic. The year she arrived at the mission, she painted a replica of the Franciscan San Damiano Cross for St. Joseph Church, Coyote Canyon, NM. Shortly thereafter, at the suggestion of the pastor, Fr. John Mittelstadt, OFM, she painted another San Damiano Cross – with Native American figures, including the Christ. This was placed in the little Hogan Chapel used by the Franciscan friars, sisters and volunteers for daily morning prayer and Mass.

The crucifix follows all the conventions of the San Damiano style, updated to the time of the Indian Wars. The Blessed Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of John, and John are Navajo. A U.S. Cavalry officer has replaced the Roman centurion. The assembly of angels looking down from heaven are all Native Americans. A Franciscan friar and a Spanish conquistador are silent witness in the corners. A Native American Christ gazes down in tranquility, transcending torment and death. In December, 1995, Linda sent a Christmas card and note to Fr. James Fischler, CICM, a friend in Rome. She enclosed a photo of the cross and, half-jokingly, told Father Jim that if Pope John Paul II liked the cross, he could have it.

Father Jim showed the photo to Jan Cardinal Schotte, CICM, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. The Cardinal showed the photo to the Pope. John Paul II sent word to the Cardinal that he would be pleased to have the cross in the Vatican collection.

Father John and Linda were stunned at first, but they had the cross shipped to Cardinal Schotte. The whole incident didn’t seem real until, about a month later, they received photographs of Pope John Paul II in his private quarters, receiving the cross from Cardinal Schotte.

Linda Benton died on December 29, 2002, but the replicas of what has become known as the “Tohatchi Cross" are still handmade today.

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