True Cross

True Cross

The True Cross is the name for physical remnants which, by a Christian tradition, are believed to be from the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified. [The birth, teachings and death of Jesus were recorded by four 1st century writers, in the books of the Bible known by the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.]

According to early writers, Socrates Scolasticus and others, the Empress Helena (c.250–c.330 AD), mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, at a date after 312 AD when Christianity was legalised throughout the Empire, travelled to the Holy Land, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor. It was at this time that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves - Dismas and Gestas - who were executed with him. Through a miracle it was revealed which of the three was the "True Cross".

Many churches possess fragmentary remains which are by tradition alleged to be those of the "True Cross." Their authenticity is not accepted universally by those of the Christian faith and the accuracy of the reports surrounding the discovery of the "True Cross" is questioned by many Christians. The acceptance and belief of that part of the tradition that pertains to the Early Christian Church is generally restricted to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Medieval legends of its provenance differ between Catholic and Orthodox tradition. These churches honour Helena as a saint, as does also the Anglican Communion.

Provenance of the True Cross

"The Golden Legend"

In the Latin-speaking traditions of Western Europe, the story of the pre-Christian origins of the True Cross was well-established by the 13th century when, in 1260, it was recorded, by Jacopo de Voragine, Bishop of Genoa, in the "Golden Legend". [Note: The word "legend" did not imply "myth". The word, from the Latin, meant "script that is to be read". Thus the indisputably historic lives of early leaders of the Christian Church, such as Gregory, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo were referred to as their "legends".]

The Legend states that the wood of the True Cross came from a seed of the Tree of Life which grew in the Garden of Eden. When Adam lay dying, he begged his son Seth to go to the Archangel Michael and beg for a seed from the Tree of Life. As he died, the seed was placed in Adam's mouth and was buried with him. The seed grew into a tree and emerged from his mouth.

After many centuries the tree was cut down and the wood used to build a bridge over which the Queen of Sheba passed, on her journey to meet King Solomon. So struck was she by the portent contained in the timber of the bridge that she fell on her knees and worshipped it. On her visit to Solomon she told him that a piece of wood from the bridge would bring about the replacement of God's Covenant with the Jewish people, by a new order. Solomon, fearing the eventual destruction of his people, had the timber buried. But after fourteen generations, the wood taken from the bridge became the Cross used at the Crucifixion of Jesus. Voragine then goes on to describe its finding by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. [Jacopo de Voragine, "The Golden Legend", late 13th century]

Acceptance of this tradition

In the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, there was a wide general acceptance of the origin of the True Cross and its history preceding the Crucifixion, as recorded by Voragine. This general acceptance is confirmed by the numerous artworks that depict this subject, culminating in one of the most famous fresco cycles of the Renaissance, the "Legend of the True Cross" by Piero della Francesca, painted on the walls of the chancel of the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo between 1452 and 1466, in which he reproduces faithfully the traditional episodes of the story as recorded in "The Golden Legend".

Eastern Christianity

"The Golden Legend" and many of its sources developed after the East-West Schism of 1054, and thus is unknown in the Greek- or Syriac-speaking worlds. The above pre-Crucifixion history, therefore, is not to be found in Eastern Christianity.

According to the Sacred Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church the True Cross was made from three different types of wood: cedar, pine and cypress.Dr. Alexander Roman, " [ Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross] ", "Ukrainian Orthodoxy" Accessed on 2008-03-01] This is an allusion to : "The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box [cypress] together to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious." The link between this verse and the Crucifixion lies in the words, "the place of my feet", which is interpreted as referring to the "suppendaneum" (foot rest) on which Jesus' feet were nailed (see Orthodox cross).

There is a tradition that the three trees from which the True Cross was constructed grew together in one spot. A traditional Orthodox icon depicts Lot, the nephew of Abraham, watering the trees. According to tradition, these trees were used to construct the Temple in Jerusalem ("to beautify the place of my sanctuary"). Later, during Herod's reconstruction of the Temple, the wood from these trees was removed from the Temple and discarded, eventually being used to construct the cross on which Jesus was crucified ("and I will make the place of my feet glorious").

Finding the True Cross

According to Eusebius

Eusebius of Caesarea, in his "Life of Constantine" [ [ Life of Constantine, book 3, chapter 25 - 41] ] , describes how the site of the Holy Sepulchre, originally a site of veneration for the Christian community in Jerusalem, had been covered with earth and a temple of Venus had been built on top — although Eusebius does not say as much, this would probably have been done as part of Hadrian's reconstruction of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina in 135, following the destruction during the Jewish Revolt of 70 and Bar Kokhba's revolt of 132–135. Following his conversion to Christianity, Emperor Constantine ordered in about 325–326 that the site be uncovered and instructed Saint Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, to build a church on the site. In this "Life", Eusebius does not mention the finding of the True Cross.

According to Socrates Scholasticus

Socrates Scholasticus (born c. 380), in his "Ecclesiastical History," gives a full description of the discovery [] that was repeated later by Sozomen and by Theodoret. In it he describes how Saint Helena, Constantine's aged mother, had the temple destroyed and the Sepulchre uncovered, whereupon three crosses and the titulus from Jesus's crucifixion were uncovered as well. In Socrates's version of the story, Macarius had the three crosses placed in turn on a deathly ill woman. This woman recovered at the touch of the third cross, which was taken as a sign that this was the cross of Christ, the new Christian symbol. Socrates also reports that, having also found the nails with which Christ had been fastened to the cross, Helena sent these to Constantinople, where they were incorporated into the emperor's helmet and the bridle of his horse.

According to Sozomen

Sozomen (died c. 450), in his [ "Ecclesiastical History"] , gives essentially the same version as Socrates. He also adds that it was said (by whom he does not say) that the location of the Sepulchre was "disclosed by a Hebrew who dwelt in the East, and who derived his information from some documents which had come to him by paternal inheritance" (although Sozomen himself disputes this account) and that a dead person was also revived by the touch of the Cross. Later popular versions of this story state that the Jew who assisted Helena was named Jude or Judas, but later converted to Christianity and took the name Kyriakos.

According to Theodoret

Theodoret (died c. 457) in his "Ecclesiastical History" Chapter xvii gives what had become the standard version of the finding of the True Cross:: When the empress beheld the place where the Saviour suffered, she immediately ordered the idolatrous temple, which had been there erected, to be destroyed, and the very earth on which it stood to be removed. When the tomb, which had been so long concealed, was discovered, three crosses were seen buried near the Lord's sepulchre. All held it as certain that one of these crosses was that of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that the other two were those of the thieves who were crucified with Him. Yet they could not discern to which of the three the Body of the Lord had been brought nigh, and which had received the outpouring of His precious Blood. But the wise and holy Macarius, the president of the city, resolved this question in the following manner. He caused a lady of rank, who had been long suffering from disease, to be touched by each of the crosses, with earnest prayer, and thus discerned the virtue residing in that of the Saviour. For the instant this cross was brought near the lady, it expelled the sore disease, and made her whole.

With the Cross were also found the Holy Nails, which Helena took with her back to Constantinople. According to Theodoret, "She had part of the cross of our Saviour conveyed to the palace. The rest was enclosed in a covering of silver, and committed to the care of the bishop of the city, whom she exhorted to preserve it carefully, in order that it might be transmitted uninjured to posterity."

Another popular ancient version from the Syriac tradition replaced Helena with a fictitious first-century empress named Protonike.

HistoriansWho|date=June 2008 consider these versions to be apocryphal in varying degrees. It is certain, however, that the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was completed by 335 and that alleged relics of the Cross were being venerated there by the 340s, as they are mentioned in the "Catecheses" of Cyril of Jerusalem (see below).

Conservation of the relics

The silver reliquary that was left at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in care of the bishop of Jerusalem was exhibited periodically to the faithful. In the 380s a nun named Egeria who was travelling on pilgrimage described the veneration of the True Cross at Jerusalem in a long letter, the "Itinerario Egeriae" that she sent back to her community of women:

: Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the [liturgical] Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross. The casket is opened and [the wood] is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again. And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it. When they have kissed the Cross and have passed through, a deacon stands holding the ring of Solomon and the horn from which the kings were anointed; they kiss the horn also and gaze at the ring… [ M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans."The Pilgrimage of Etheria", Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London,(1919)]

Before long, but perhaps not until after the visit of Egeria, it was possible also to venerate the crown of thorns, the pillar at which Christ was scourged, and the lance that pierced his side.

In 614 the Sassanid Emperor Khosrau II ("Chosroes") removed the part of the cross as a trophy, when he captured Jerusalem. Thirteen years later, in 628, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius defeated Khosrau and regained the relic of Shahrbaraz. He placed the cross in Constantinople at first, and took it back to Jerusalem in March 21, 630 [ [ HERAKLEIOS, byzantinischer Kaiser ] ] . Around 1009, Christians in Jerusalem hid the part of the cross and it remained hidden until it was rediscovered during the First Crusade, on August 5, 1099, by Arnulf Malecorne, the first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, conveniently at a moment when a morale boost was needed. The relic that Arnulf discovered was a small fragment of wood embedded in a golden cross, and it became the most sacred relic of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, with none of the controversy that had followed their discovery of the Holy Lance in Antioch. It was housed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre under the protection of the Latin Patriarch, who marched with it ahead of the army before every battle. It was captured by Saladin during the Battle of Hattin in 1187 and subsequently disappeared. Both the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos and Georgian queen Tamar sought to ransom it from Saladin – to no avail, however. [Ciggaar, Krijnie & Teule, Herman (ed., 1996), East and West in the Crusader States, p. 38. Peeters Publishers, ISBN 9042912871.]

Other fragments of the Cross were further broken up, and the pieces were widely distributed; in 348, in one of his "Catecheses", Cyril of Jerusalem remarked that the "whole earth is full of the relics of the Cross of Christ," [ See this account at [] ] and in another, "The holy wood of the Cross bears witness, seen among us to this day, and from this place now almost filling the whole world, by means of those who in faith take portions from it." [See this account at [] ] Egeria's account testifies how highly these relics of the crucifixion were prized. Saint John Chrysostom relates that fragments of the True Cross were kept in golden reliquaries, "which men reverently wear upon their persons." Even two Latin inscriptions around 350 from today's Algeria testifies the keeping and admiration of small particles of the cross. [Duval, Yvette, Loca sanctorum Africae, Rome 1982, p.331-337 and 351-353] Around the year 455, Juvenal Patriarch of Jerusalem sent to Pope Leo I a fragment of the "precious wood", according to the "Letters" of Pope Leo. A portion of the cross was taken to Rome in the seventh century by Pope Sergius I, who was of Byzantine origin. "In the small part is power of the whole cross", so an inscription in the Felix Basilica of Nola, built by bishop Paulinus at the beginning of 5th century. The cross particle was inserted in the altar. [Ziehr, Wilhelm, Das Kreuz, Stuttgart 1997, page 62]

The Old English poem "Dream of the Rood" mentions the finding of the cross and the beginning of the tradition of the veneration of its relics. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also talks of King Alfred receiving a fragment of the cross from Pope Marinus (see: Annal Alfred the Great, year 883) [ [ Medieval Sourcebook: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on Alfred the Great] ] . However, although it is possible, the poem need not be referring to this specific relic or have this incident as the reason for its composition.

Dispersal of relics of the True Cross

An inscription of 359, found at Tixter, in the neighbourhood of Sétif in Mauretania, was said to mention, in an enumeration of relics, a fragment of the True Cross, according to an entry in "Roman Miscellanies", X, 441.

But most of the very small relics of the True Cross in Europe came from Constantinople. The city was captured and sacked by the Fourth Crusade in 1204: "After the conquest of the city Constantinople inestimable wealth was found, incomparably precious jewels and also a part of the cross of the Lord, which Helena transfers from Jerusalem and was decorated with gold and precious jewels. There it attained highest admiration. It was carved up by the present bishops and was divided with other very precious relics among the knights; later, after their return to the homeland, it was donated to churches and monasteries." [Original: Capta igitur urbe, divitiae repperiuntur inestimabiles, lapides preciosissime et incomparabiles, pars etiam ligni dominici, quod per Helenam de Iherosolimis translatum, auro et gemmis precioses insignitum in maxima illic veneratione habebatur, ab episcopis qui presentes aderant incisum, ab aliis preciosissimis reliquis per nobilis quosque partitur, et postea eis revertentibus ad natale solum, per ecclesias et cenobia distrbuitur. - German: Nach der Eroberung der Stadt wurden unschätzbare Reichtümer gefunden, unvergleichlich kostbare Edelsteine und auch ein Teil des Kreuzes des Herrn, das, von Helena aus Jerusalem überführt und mit Gold und kostbaren Edelsteinen geschmückt, dort höchste Verehrung erfuhr. Es wurde von den anwesenden Bischöfen zerstückelt und mit anderen sehr kostbaren Reliquien unter die Ritter aufgeteilt; später, nach deren Rückkehr in die Heimat, wurde es Kirchen und Klöstern gestiftet.] ["Chronica regia Coloniensis" (sub annorum 1238 - 1240), page 203. Original book in Brüssel, three writers, two painters, last writing: year 1238, in: [] ; Waitz, Georg [Hrsg.] ,Monumenta Germaniae historica : [Scriptores] : Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum, 18, Hannover 1880, page 203 (Pars Sexte, continuatio tertia monachi S. Pantaleon)] [ See also: 10 sections of relics of the True Cross with documentary proofs, in: [] ] A knight Robert de Clari wrote: "Within this chapel were found many precious relics; for therein were found two pieces of the True Cross, as thick as a man's leg and a fathom in length." [Robert of Clari's account of the Fourth Crusade, chapter 82: OF THE MARVELS OF CONSTANTINOPLE [] ]

By the end of the Middle Ages so many churches claimed to possess a piece of the True Cross, that John Calvin is famously said to have remarked that there was enough wood in them to fill a ship:

: "There is no abbey so poor as not to have a specimen. In some places there are large fragments, as at the Holy Chapel in Paris, at Poictiers, and at Rome, where a good-sized crucifix is said to have been made of it. In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it." :::— Calvin, "Traité Des Reliques."

Conflicting with this is the finding of Rohault de Fleury, who, in his "Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion" 1870 made a study of the relics in reference to the criticisms of Calvin and Erasmus. He drew up a catalogue of all known relics of the True Cross showing that, in spite of what various authors have claimed, the fragments of the Cross brought together again would not reach one-third that of a cross which has been supposed to have been three or four meters in height, with transverse branch of two meters wide, proportions not at all abnormal. He calculated: supposing the Cross to have been of pine-wood (based on his microscopic analysis of the fragments) and giving it a weight of about seventy-five kilograms, we find the original volume of the cross to be .178 cubic meters. The total known volume of known relics of the True Cross, according to his catalogue, amounts to approximately .004 cubic meters (more specifically 3,942,000 cubic milimeters), leaving a volume of .174 cubic meters lost, destroyed, or otherwise unaccounted for.

Four cross particles - of ten particles with documentary proofs by Byzantine emperors - from European churches, i.e. Santa Croce in Rome, Notre Dame, Paris, Pisa Cathedral and Florence Cathedral, were microscopically examined. "The pieces came all together from olive." [(William Ziehr, "Das Kreuz", Stuttgart 1997, p. 63) [] , in German. ]

Gerasimos Smyrnakis [Gerasimos Smyrnakis, Το Αγιον Ορος ("The Holy Mountain"), Athens, 1903 (reprinted 1998), p. 378-379] notes that the largest surviving portion, of 870,760 cubic milimeters, is preserved in the Monastery of Koutloumousiou on Mount Athos, 537,587 cubic milimetres in Rome, 516,090 in Brussels, 445,582 in Venice, 436,450 in Ghent and 237,731 in Paris.

Santo Toribio de Liébana in Spain is also said to hold the largest of these pieces and is one of the most visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites. It is possible that many of the extant pieces of the True Cross are forgeries, created by traveling merchants in the Middle Ages, during which period a thriving trade in manufactured relics existed.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church also claims to have the right wing of the true cross buried in the monastery of Gishen Mariam.

Veneration of the Cross

St John Chrysostom wrote homilies on the three crosses:

: Kings removing their diadems take up the cross, the symbol of their Saviour's death; on the purple, the cross; in their prayers, the cross; on their armour, the cross; on the holy table, the cross; throughout the universe, the cross. The cross shines brighter than the sun.

The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and a number of Protestant denominations, celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14, the anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In later centuries, these celebrations also included commemoration of the rescue of the True Cross from the Persians in 628. In the Gallician usage, beginning about the seventh century, the Feast of the Cross was celebrated on May 3. According to the "Catholic Encyclopedia", when the Gallician and Roman practices were combined, the September date, for which the Vatican adopted the official name "Triumph of the Cross" in 1963, was used to commemorate the rescue from the Persians and the May date was kept as the "Invention of the True Cross" to commemorate the finding. [The term "Invention" is from the Latin "invenire", "to find" (lit. "to come across"), and should not be understood in the modern sense of creating something new.] The September date is often referred to in the West as Holy Cross Day; the May date was dropped from the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council in 1970. (See also Roodmas.) The Orthodox still commemorate both events on September 14, one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year, and the Procession of the Venerable Wood of the Cross on 1 August, the day on which the relics of the True Cross would be carried through the streets of Constantinople to bless the city [] .

In addition to celebrations on fixed days, there are certain days of the variable cycle when the Cross is celebrated. The Roman Catholic Church has a formal 'Adoration of the Cross' (the term is inaccurate, but sanctioned by long use [] ) during the services for Good Friday, while Eastern Orthodox churches everywhere, a replica of the cross is brought out in procession during Matins of Great and Holy Friday for the people to venerate. The Orthodox also celebrate an additional Veneration of the Cross on the third Sunday of Great Lent.

Photo gallery

ee also

* Crucifixion
* Battle of Hattin
* Relic
* Christian cross
* Île de la Cité
* Stavelot Triptych
* Meskel
* Titulus Crucis
* Santa Croce in Gerusalemme


*Alan V. Murray, "Mighty against the enemies of Christ: the relic of the True Cross in the armies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem" in "The Crusades and their sources: essays presented to B. Hamilton" ed. J. France, W. G. Zajac (Aldershot, 1998) pp. 217-238.
*A. Frolow, "La relique de la Vraie Croix: recherches sur le développement d'un culte". Paris, 1961.
*Jean-Luc Deuffic (ed.), "Reliques et sainteté dans l'espace médiéval", Pecia 8/11, 2005 []


External links

* [ Jan Willem Drijvers, "Helena Augusta"] : the three legends that circulated about the finding of the Cross, the Helena legend, the Protonike legend and the Judas Kyriakos legend, with references to the contemporary sources
* [ "Catholic Encyclopedia":] "True Cross," a Catholic view
* [ "OCA Synaxarion":] Exaltation of the Cross, traditional Orthodox view
* [ Fernand Cabrol, "The true Cross"] : a Catholic view
* [ The Holy Cross in Jerusalem]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • True Cross — ▪ Christian relic  Christian relic, reputedly the wood of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Legend relates that the True Cross was found by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 326 …   Universalium

  • True Cross —    The wooden cross on which Christ was crucified, which Helena, mother of Constantine I the Great (qq.v.), allegedly discovered in Jerusalem (q.v.). She sent part of it to Constantinople (q.v.), but already in the fourth century smaller… …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • True Cross — noun The cross on which Christ was crucified. Syn: Cross See Also: Veracruz …   Wiktionary

  • True Cross — supposedly the actual cross on which Christ was crucified; there were fragments of it preserved as relics across Christendom …   Medieval glossary

  • True Cross, The — • (1) Growth Of the Christian Cult; (2) Catholic Doctrine on the Veneration of the Cross; (3) Relics of the True Cross; (4) Principal Feasts of the Cross Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • True Cross Catholic School (Dickinson, Texas) — Infobox School name = True Cross Catholic School latin name = imagesize = caption = streetaddress = 400 FM 517 E city = Dickinson state = Texas zipcode = 77539 country = USA coordinates = schoolnumber = schoolboard = True Cross School Board… …   Wikipedia

  • The True Cross —     The True Cross     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The True Cross     (AND REPRESENTATIONS OF IT AS OBJECTS OF DEVOTION).     (1) Growth Of the Christian Cult;     (2) Catholic Doctrine on the Veneration of the Cross;     (3) Relics of the True… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • The History of the True Cross — The Dream of Constantine, the first nocturnal scene in Western art (pre restoration image) …   Wikipedia

  • Legend of the true cross, San Francesco, Arezzo — (c. 1454 1458)    This fresco cycle was commissioned from Piero della Francesca by the Bacci family for the Cappella Maggiore of San Francesco. The main scenes follow Jacobus da Voragine s story in the Golden Legend of the wood used for the cross …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

  • Cross of Cong — Wood engraved illustration of the Cross of Cong. Material Various (incl. gold, silver, niello copper). Created Early Medieval Period (1123 CE 1127 CE) …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.