Les reliques de la vraie croix-RELICS

The relics of the true cross

True Cross, Christian relic, reputed to be the wood of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Legend has it that the True Cross was found by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land around 326.

 true cross relics


Relics of the True Cross on relics.es


In 326, Constantine's mother, Empress Helena , makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Hélène is a devout Christian, and it is even said that it was she who encouraged her son to convert to Christianity.

On the hill of Golgotha, at the very place of the crucifixion, Helen had the ancient temple of Venus demolished and ordered the construction of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher . During the works, we discovered under the old slabs of the temple the place of the torture of Jesus as well as three wooden crosses. The Empress goes to the scene and identifies the Cross of Christ thanks to her  titulus on which is engraved the inscription Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. This major event is known asd’Inventio Crucis  or Invention of the True Cross.».


relique vraie croix

Romanesque reliquary cross relic of the True Cross on Relics.es


The Cross will be kept for a long time in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, with the exception of a small piece that Hélène sends to her son, and the titulus which she takes with her to Rome.


reliquaire de la vraie croix

Reliquary of the so-called Palatine Cross, contains the relics of the True Cross and of the Holy Nail currently part of the treasury of Notre-Dame de Paris.



The fate of the True Cross from its discovery by Hélène has been tumultuous. Over the centuries, the Cross has been cut into several parts and has been the subject of multiple samples for the making of relics. As the market for holy objects developed considerably during the Middle Ages, fakes began to circulate, some of which are still visible today in Europe and around the world.


The True Cross, first kept in the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, was stolen by the Persians in 614 . It was returned to Christians in 630, an event celebrated under the name of Exaltation of the Holy Cross. . But in 635, fearing the advance of the Muslims, the Christian emperor of the East decided to transfer it to Constantinople. For religious reasons, however, he left part of the Cross, probably half of the crosspiece (thepatibulum), at the Holy Sepulchre.


relique de la vraie croix

Relic of the True Cross for sale on Relics.es



In 638, Jerusalem fell to the Muslims. Initially, the cult of the fragment remaining in the Holy Sepulcher remained, the occupants showing a certain tolerance. But in 1009, faced with the destruction of the churches and the multiplication of persecutions, the Christians of Jerusalem decide to hide it.

In 1099 , the fighters of the first crusade, headed by Godefroy de Bouillon, took Jerusalem and founded the Latin States of the East. On August 5, they unearthed the fragment kept secret and reinstalled it in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims flock in large numbers. This piece of the Cross becomes the symbol of the brand new kingdom of Jerusalem and the knights take it to meet the enemy in each battle.

In 1187 , the Crusaders suffer a terrible defeat during the Battle of Hattin , near Lake Tiberias. The king of Jerusalem Guy de Lusignan is taken prisoner and hundreds of knights are massacred. Sultan Saladin seizes the fragment and conquers Jerusalem a few weeks later. The Christian world is in shock. The trace of this part of the Cross is lost forever.


The fate of the other parts of the True Cross.


Let us now evoke the fate of the other parts of the Cross, the most considerable, preserved by the emperors of the East in Constantinople.

In 1203, the pope launched the fourth crusade with the aim of retaking Jerusalem, but the expedition turned into a fratricidal war. The crusaders seize Constantinople, however allied, and found the eastern latin empire which will last for several decades. The chiefs of this fragile territory claim the holy relics preserved in the church of Notre-Dame du Phare. On the verge of bankruptcy, they decide to put them up for sale.

The acquisition of the True Cross by Saint-Louis.

In 1238, the King of France Saint Louis acquires all of Les Bois, which will be transferred to Paris three years later. See our article on the acquisition of the True Cross by Saint-Louis.

To house the precious relics, Saint-Louis built an exceptional building in the heart of Paris: the Sainte-Chapelle . The True Cross will be exhibited there for a long time in the Grande Châsse, a monumental safe and a true masterpiece of goldsmithery.

However, on the night of May 9 to 10, 1575 (reign of Henry III), the part of the True Cross which was ordinarily presented to the devotion of the faithful for Holy Week is stolen. She will not be found. In 1576, Henri III replaced it with a copy inspired by the lost work. It will be said later that it was the king himself and his mother, Catherine de Medici, who was short of money, who organized the theft of this relic, in order to hire it in Italy.

The story of the Cross of Jesus: its disappearance during the Revolution.

The fate of the True Cross changes when France enters the Revolution. The property of the clergy is seized, and voices are raised to demand the destruction of sacred objects. In 1794, at the height of the Troubles, the relics are scattered and what remains of the True Cross disappears . She will never be found. Only a small piece of 24 cm will come out a few years later (this piece is now attached to the treasure of Notre-Dame de Paris).

The oldest historical reference to the veneration of the True Cross dates back to the middle of the 4th century. In the 8th century, accounts were enriched with legendary details describing the history of the wood of the cross before it was used for the Crucifixion.

Adoration of the True Cross resulted in the sale of its fragments which were sought after as relics. Certain Roman Catholic theologians who asserted that the blood of Christ gave the True Cross a kind of material indestructibility, so that it could be divided indefinitely without being diminished. These beliefs led to the proliferation of relics of the True Cross wherever Christianity developed in the medieval world, and fragments were deposited in most major cities and in a large number of abbeys. The reliquaries intended to receive the fragments have also multiplied, and certain precious objects of this type remain.

The desire to regain or obtain possession of the True Cross has been invoked to justify military expeditions, such as that of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius against the Persians (622-628) and the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.

The Feast of the Finding of the Cross was celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on May 3 until it was removed from the Church calendar in 1960 by Pope John XXIII.

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