On this great feast of our faith, here is my latest article on Aleteia:
September 14 is known as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and celebrates the glory of the cross of Christ by which we have been saved. It is also a day that commemorates the “Finding of the True Cross” by Saint Helena (Constantine’s mother) in the year 326, and ever since that day relics of the true cross have been distributed around the world.
Small relics of the cross can now be found in great cathedrals as well as the humblest of country churches, and at one time individuals also claimed to possess relics. The prevalence of these relics prompted John Calvin to quip, “if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load.”
Well, is it true? If we gathered all the relics of the true cross and put them together, would it build a wooden ship that rivals Noah’s ark?
Myth or fact?
First of all, we need to dig into what history tells us about the finding of the true cross.
Tradition relates (confirmed by the contemporary sources of St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, Rufinus, and Gelasius to name a few) that Saint Helena was inspired by God to travel to the Holy Land in search of the true cross of Jesus Christ. After Jesus’ death, the Jews hid the cross in a ditch, covering it with stones so that the early Christians would not be able to venerate it. In the years that followed, a pagan shrine was also built upon the same site in honor of the goddess Venus, most likely constructed during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.
There were a handful of Jews who knew where the true cross was hidden and had passed down that information amongst themselves over the centuries. One such Jew, named Judas, felt compelled to tell Saint Helena where the relics of the true cross were buried.
They excavated the site and found three crosses; one was believed to be the true cross and the other two were from the thieves crucified on either side of Jesus. However, they didn’t know which cross Jesus was crucified on and decided to test them by bringing a terminally ill woman to the location and touching each cross to her. One of the crosses miraculously healed the woman, so that particular cross was enshrined in a church built in Jerusalem over the Holy Sepulchre and was believed to be the true cross on account of its supernatural properties.
Wanting to test the claim and see if it was true that all the relics of the true cross would build a massive ship, a French independent scholar named Charles Rohault de Fleury tracked down every surviving relic and published a scientific study in 1870 entitled Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion…..
– See more at Aleteia