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True Cross

jerusalem helena century discovery

Jesus was crucified with two other men. The *cross upon which Jesus was crucified came to be known as the True Cross. The first reports of the discovery of this important *relic in Jerusalem date from the mid-fourth century, rapidly evolved into detailed accounts (e.g., the fifth-century apocryphal Acts of Judas Cyriacus ), and were further elaborated in works such as the * Golden Legend , which traced the origins of the True Cross back to a shoot or branch from the *Garden of Eden acquired by *Adam’s son Seth. This wood was later used by *Moses to set up the brazen serpent and even later became a bridge over a stream near Jerusalem. The *Queen of Sheba, alerted by a vision en route to visit *Solomon, recognized Page 253  the future significance of this wooden bridge. Eventually, the wood was taken from the healing pool of Bethesda in order to form the cross for *Christ’s crucifixion.


The discovery (or “invention,” from Latin invenio , “to find”) of the True Cross in 326 was attributed to Saint *Helena by Saint *Ambrose. Hence, Helena plays a primary role in the pictorial narratives of the story. Alerted by an *angel to undertake a *pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Helena questioned the *Jews and ordered the torture of one Judas who, after being thrown into a dry well for seven days, revealed where the three crosses had been buried. All three crosses were excavated, but the True Cross was proven when it alone revived a dead youth (or a dying woman). The cross was enshrined in the church of the *Holy Sepulchre (founded by Helena), later stolen by the Persians in 615, but returned to Jerusalem by the Byzantine emperor *Heraclius in 630. Pieces of the True Cross were among the most sought after and the most abundant of medieval relics.

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