Holy Relics: The True Cross

Holy Relics: The True Cross

September 14th is celebrated by the Roman Catholics as Holy Cross Day. It is a day taken to commemorate the recovery of the True Cross that was discovered in Jerusalem by St. Helena.

According to legend, she turned to the Christian faith after her son, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, became a Christian. She then went to Jerusalem on a religious expedition, where she searched for relics and proof of Jesus Christ who was crucified over 200 years prior.

The Temple of Venus was built on Mount Calvary to squash the growing Christian faith. Having such power at her disposal as was granted her by her son, she ordered it to be demolished after hearing that this may be the site where Jesus’ cross would be found.

Lo and behold, in the ruins three crosses were found. The inscription plate, with Jesus of Nazareth written on it, was also found in the same cistern. But then came the question, which of the three crosses was the True Cross?

How The True Cross Was Identified

St. Helena facilitated the expedition that led to the discovery of the True Cross

St. Helena facilitated the expedition that led to the discovery of the True Cross.

The story of the identification of the true cross is told as follows:

A terminally ill woman was ordered to be taken to the three crosses by St. Helena. The woman touched each of the three crosses, and only after touching the third cross was she cured. It was therefore the third cross that was identified as the True Cross of Christ due to this miraculous healing.

After discovering the True Cross St. Helena took a piece of it back to Rome while the rest of it stayed in Jerusalem. Some reports say it was kept on Mount Calvary while others claim it was kept in the newly built Church of the Sepulcher, the site where Jesus was buried.

A couple of centuries later, the the relic was taken by Persian King Chosroas. It was eventually returned by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius to Jerusalem. This event is what the Roman Catholics also refer to as Exaltation of the Cross or Elevation of the Cross.

Identifying Which Pieces Are Real

Discovery of the True Cross' by Italian painter Agnolo Gaddi

'Discovery of the True Cross' by Italian painter Agnolo Gaddi.

But there is some debate around the validity of the relics commonly referred to as being a part of the True Cross.

In fact one independent scholar took it upon himself to research the claim that one often hears in reference to the True Cross. This claim usually spoken in jest, points to the fact that there are so many reported pieces of the True Cross spread across the world that it could be enough to rebuild Noah’s ark.

But Charles Rohault de Fleury tracked down every surviving piece of what is claimed to be the True Cross back in the late 19th century. What he found was that all the relics combined wouldn’t even be able to make a cross, and therefore it is highly likely that most of them are indeed part of the True Cross that St. Helena found.

Since then it's likely that a lot more hopefuls and con artists have duplicated or created “pieces” of the true cross. And it’s therefore very likely that some exhibits claiming to contain parts of the True Cross unfortunately don’t. It is however very, very likely that the True Cross relics exhibited at the chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in Rome are indeed from the cross Jesus was crucified on.

A Solid Proof of Jesus' Existence

An early Byzantine illustration depicting the crucifixion of Jesus

An early Byzantine illustration depicting the crucifixion of Jesus.

The True Cross is one of the most well known of Christian relics, serving as yet another reminder that Jesus was a real human being that walked the earth thousands of years ago and that he was crucified. Whether you are a firm believer in the Christian faith or not, there is no denying that Jesus of Nazareth existed and was crucified on Mount Calvary.

If you are Christian, then perhaps the True Cross awakens the same sense of religious fire that was once awakened in St. Helena, which spurred her on to resurrect the Christian faith after the numerous attempts to stop it from becoming the global phenomenon it is today. And it is no wonder that the Roman Catholics celebrate the True Cross and make pilgrimages to see the relics in both Jerusalem and Rome.