Relics Of The Cross Of Jesus


The testimony of Silvia (Etheria) proves how highly these relics were prized, while St. Cyril of Jerusalem, her contemporary, testifies as explicitly that “the whole inhabited earth is full of relics of the wood of the Cross”. In 1889 two French archæologists, Letaille and Audollent, discovered in the district of Sétif an inscription of the year 359 in which, among other relics, is mentioned the sacred wood of the Cross (de ligno crucis et de terrâ promissionis ubi natus est Christus). Another inscription, from Rasgunia (Cape Matifu), somewhat earlier in date than the preceding, mentions another relic of the Cross (“sancto ligno salvatoris adlato”.– See Duchesne in Acad. des inscr., Paris, 6 December, 1889; Morel, “Les missions catholiques”, 25 March, 1890, p.156; Catech. iv in P. G., XXXIII, 469; cf. also ibid., 800; Procopius, “De Bello Persico”, II, xi). St. John Chrysostom tells us that fragments of the True Cross are kept in golden reliquaries, which men reverently wear upon their persons.

The passage in the “Peregrinatio” which treats of this devotion has already been cited. St. Paulinus of Nola, some years later, sends to Sulpicius Severus a fragment of the True Cross with these words: “Receive a great gift in a little [compass]; and take, in [this] almost atomic segment of a short dart, an armament [against the perils] of the present and a pledge of everlasting safety” (Epist. xxxi, n.1. P. L., LXI, 325). About 455 Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, sends to Pope St. Leo a fragment of the precious wood (S. Leonis Epist. cxxxix, P. L., LIV, 1108). The “Liber Pontificalis”, if we are to accept the authenticity of its statement, tells us that, in the pontificate of St. Sylvester, Constantine presented to the Sessorian basilica (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme) in Rome a portion of the True Cross (Duchesne Liber Pontif., I, 80; cf. 78, 178, 179, 195). Later, under St. Hilary (461-68) and under Symmachus (498-514) we are again told that fragments of the True Cross are enclosed in altars (op. cit., I, 242 sq. and 261 sq.). About the year 500 Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, asks for a portion of the Cross from the Patriarch of Jerusalem (P.L., LIX, 236, 239).

It is known that Radegunda, Queen of the Franks, having retired to Poitiers, obtained from the Emperor Justin II, in 569, a remarkable relic of the True Cross. A solemn feast was celebrated on this occasion, and the monastery founded by the queen at Poitiers received from that moment the name of Holy Cross. It was also upon this occasion that Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers, and a celebrated poet of the period, composed the hymn “Vexilla Regis” which is still sung at feasts of the Cross in the Latin Rite. St. Gregory I sent, a little later, a portion of the Cross to Theodolinda, Queen of the Lombards (Ep. xiv, 12), and another to Recared, the first Catholic King of Spain (Ep. ix, 122). In 690, under Sergius I, a casket was found containing a relic of the True Cross which had been sent to John III (560-74) by the Emperor Justin II (cf. Borgia, “De Cruce Vaticanâ”,Rome, 1779, p. 63, and Duchesne, “Liber Pontificalis”, I, 374, 378). We will not give in detail the history of other relics of the Cross (see the works of Gretser and the articles of Kraus and Bäumer quoted in the bibliography). The work of Rohault de Fleury, “Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion” (Paris, 1870), deserves more prolonged attention; its author has sought out with great care and learning all the relics of the True Cross, drawn up a catalogue of them, and, thanks to this labour, he has succeeded in showing that, in spite of what various Protestant or Rationalistic authors have pretended, the fragments of the Cross brought together again would not only not “be comparable in bulk to a battleship”, but would not reach one-third that of a cross which has been supposed to have been three or four metres in height, with transverse branch of two metres (see above; under I), proportions not at all abnormal (op. cit., 97-179). Here is the the calculation of this savant: Supposing the Cross to have been of pine-wood, as is believed by the savants who have made a special study of the subject, and giving it a weight of about seventy-five kilograms, we find that the volume of this cross was 178,000,000 cubic millimetres. Now the total known volume of the True Cross, according to the finding of M. Rohault de Fleury, amounts to above 4,000 000 cubic millimetres, allowing the missing part to be as big as we will, the lost parts or the parts the existence of which has been overlooked, we still find ourselves far short of 178,000,000 cubic millimetres, which should make up the True Cross.