Discovery of the True Cross by Agnolo Gaddi
St. Helena, the Legend of the True Cross, and the Holy Sepulcher
This is a legend unlike any other. It all started with a young servant girl named Flavia Julia Helena. Born in 248 C.E. in Bithynia, a province of the Roman Empire, Helena was no different from anyone else, until the day that she caught the eye of the Roman emperor, Constantius I Chlorus, with her beauty.
St. Helena’s Conversion
They married, had a son in the year 272 who, if you have ever learned anything about Roman history, you will probably know. Their son was the one and only Constantine. Constantine became one of the greatest Roman emperors. One of the things he is known for is the Edict of Milan, issued in the year 313. The Edict of Milan allowed for Christianity to be a freely practiced religion. It was at this time that Helena most likely converted to Christianity.
Altar of the Crucifixion where the rock of calvary can be seen
St. Helena Goes to the Holy Land
In the year 324, Constantine sent Helena on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of the “Holy Sepulcher” and “The True Cross.” The “Holy Sepulcher” is the location of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, while “The True Cross” is the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. On this pilgrimage, it was said that Helena “followed in the footsteps of Jesus,” by performing many acts of kindness and good works, such as giving money, food, and clothing to the poor, and also helping churches with funds as well as other needs. After weeks of traveling, she finally made it to Jerusalem. With the help of Judas Cyriancus, a man selected at random and forced against his will to help, Helena was able to get closer than she ever had to finding “The True Cross.” This is where the story diverges. Although some believe a commoner from a nearby town led Helena to “The True Cross,”others believe that it was Judas Cyriancus.
Finding the Cross
They continued their search for days, when their prayers were finally answered. Helena said it was then, “with sweet smelling dust and a flash of lightning” that she pointed to the place where she instructed Judas to started digging. Finally, they uncovered three crosses, one thought to belong to Jesus Christ, and the others belonging to the two thieves that died alongside Him. To test and see which one of these crosses truly belonged to Jesus Christ, they searched for a leper at the outskirts of Jerusalem. Once one was found, they returned back to the site of Golgotha, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. The leper was instructed to touch each of the crosses one by one. He touched the first one and nothing happened. He touched the second one and still nothing happened. Finally, when he touched the third and final cross, the leper was instantly healed. It was this cross that healed the leper, and for that reason it is known as “The True Cross.”
A fragment of the True Cross inside the Schatzkammer of Vienna
Spreading the Treasure
The cross was then carried back to Constantinople, while part of the cross was placed in the hands of the bishop of Jerusalem. As the years passed, fragments of “The True Cross” were placed in the care of many Catholic churches around the world for all to admire. Although we may never know whether the cross they found and distributed was “The True Cross,” like all legends, in the end it is up to us whether to believe the account or not.
The Chapel of the Finding of the Cross beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The True Cross in Jerusalem
When visiting the Holy Sepulcher, pilgrims can descend the 29 steep steps to the underground Armenian Chapel of St Helena. This was the crypt of the emperor Constantine’s 4th-century basilica and is therefore the oldest complete part of the entire building. Near that chapel, another steep staircase leads to the Franciscan Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. This rough-walled area has been built within part of the ancient quarry, apparently later converted into a cistern for water storage. According to tradition, St. Helena discovered the True Cross and other instruments of the Passion and crucifixion in this spot. A statue behind the altar shows her holding the Cross.
Original article here.