The “True Cross” Of Jesus Christ: What Happened To It? Where Is It Now?
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The incredible story of one of the most disputed relics in history and it could be real or not, but even now it is important in Christian worship: we are talking about the “True Cross” of Jesus Christ.
Obviously to possess a relic of a saint, a blessed, an apostle: to have one of them would have bought prestige and pilgrims from all over the world.
A real trafficking of relics had arisen in which even bishops and cardinals participated, selling or gifting to various or “adversary” churches and dioceses relics they knew to be false.
And what more precious relic could exist, if not something belonging to Jesus Christ?
So here is the story of the only relics connected to Jesus Christ (except the Shourd and the blood which we will talk in another articles): the fragments and nails of the “True Cross” of Christ.
How The True Cross was Found
According to the story told in the 4th century AD. by Socrates Scholasticus (and confirmed by other historians and writers of the time), the cross was found in the Holy Sepulcher by none other the the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, Saint Elena Augusta Empress, between 326 and 328 AD. when she went to Jerusalem to build churches and buildings to house and help the poors.
Elena Augusta had a temple dedicated to the roman goddess Venus, that had been built on the Holy Sepulcher, destroyed; after that she gave order to begin the excavations. The Empress knew that there she would find the cross on which Jesus Christ had been crucified.
Apparently, she was right and three crosses emerged from the excavations, together with the “Titulus Crucis” which bore the inscription “INRI”.
But which one was Christ’s cross?
To find it, Elena Augusta had a dying woman brought in: she touched the three crosses on at a time, until touching one of them, she was healed.
They had found the “True Cross”.
Elena Augusta had a church built in the place of the discovery, the Church of the Resurrection and the she returned to Rome.
At that point, parts of the cross were transported to Constantinople, the Greek city of Bizantium which Constantine in 330 AD. had renamed after himself and made the capital of the Roman Empire, while other parts remained in Jerusalem where they were the destination of thousands of pilgrims, at least until about 600 AD.
In 615 AD. The Persian emperor Khosrow II, after a three weeks siege, conquered Jerusalem and took possession of the “True Cross”. From that moment he wanted to be workshipped as God and he always carried the relic with him during his campaign of conquest.
But the Byzantine Emperor, Flavius Heraclius Augustus, had no intention of letting Khosrow II expand any further, nor let him keep in his hands the “True Cross”.
The relic was, then, kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher under the protection of the Latin patriarch who carried it on march, at the head of the army, before every battle.
Thus, in 1187 AD. The “True Cross” was brought to the battlefield of Hattin, where the Christian army was defeated by Saladin who took possession of the “True Cross”.
Saladin always refused to give it back to the Christians, reminding them that for the Islamic religion, Jesus was a very important Prophet.
The legend has it that when Pope Urban III learned of the loss of the “True Cross”, he fell to the ground dead.
Both Richard Lionheart and the Byzantine Emperor Isacc IOI attempted to retake of the relic, but failed.
In 1219 AD. Al-Malik al-Kamil, tha sultan and Saladin’s nephew, famous for his meeting with St. Francis (among other things), offered the relic to the Knights Templar in exchange for the lift of the seige of the city of Damietta.
But the sultan did not really have the relic.
From that moment all traces of that relic of the “True Cross” were lost.
So, where do the relics that have come down to the present days and of which hundreds of churches in medieval times boasts possession come from?
After a few years it seemed that every church, except the smaller ones, had a relic of the “True Cross”.
Some pieces were exhibited in display cases, others were set in gold, silver or precious stone jewellery.
A celebration was also created, the “Feast of the Finding of the Cross”, which was celebrated by the Church until 1960, when Pope John XXIII removed it from the calendar.
Were are the fragments now?
Santa Croce, Roma
There are three pieces kept in the Cappella delle Reliquie of Santa Croce in Rome, together with a piece of the writing “INRI”, two thorns from the “Crow of Thorns” and a part of one of the nails used during the crucifixion.
The fragment was kept in the church of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and had been bought by King Louis IX (St. Louis of the French) from Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople in the 13th century AD.
After the French Revolution, during which it was forbidden to preserve the relics, a part of the relics returned in the hands of the Bishop of Paris, in 1804, and since then the fragment was kept with the Treasure of Notre Dame, until the fire in 2019, when it was moved to the Louvre.
The relic was donated to the Scuola Grande by the Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1369.
It was kept in a reliquary that had been especially built, but after a short time, during a procession, the relic fell into a canal.
The fragment did not sink, but instead it hovered over the water, evading all the attempts at repechage, until its receiver, Andrea Vendramin, entered the water and took it.
For the Venetians it was a miracle.
It is the most surprising place where a relic of the “True Cross” is said to be found. Apparently a fragment of the cross lies at the bottom of the Black Sea. The Sevastopol Archpriest says that a fragment was kept in the chapel of the Russian Cruiser Moskva.
The Moskva sank on 14 April 2022 and the fragment is said to have sunk with it.
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Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
In the museum of the Opera of Duomo in Florence, part of the treasure of the Cathedral and of the baptistery is kept inside a chapel.
Among these is the “Cross of Medici’s Grand Duchess”, a cross shaped reliquary of Byzantine origin with a splinter of the “True Cross” inside.
Whether the fragments are true ( even just one of them) or not, the compelling story remains together with the importance that these “relics” represent for all of Christianity.
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