Via Francigena: Rome: Refreshed after a Roman lunch, we continued to Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme). The church was high on every pilgrim’s itinerary and its present name was given to it during medieval times. In 325 an old Roman palace was consecrated as a church to house the Passion Relics that Helena had brought back from Jerusalem and soil from the Holy Land was used to pack its floor.
The present basilica was a large cavernous building with a chapel at either end of the main altar. The Chapel of the Passion Relics was remodeled in 1930 to house the relics from the Holy Land. Suitably austere and foreboding, the chapel imparted a sense of the importance and significance of the relics displayed behind the altar. There was a young attendant sitting on a chair reading a book while keeping a wary eye on visitors.
We walked around behind the altar to view the relics. Amazing, really. Each relic was displayed in its own reliquary. It was difficult to see the relics’ details from behind the glass partition. There were two thorns from the Crown of Thorns and a nail from the Crucifixion. The nail was a Roman type. Of all the Crucifixion nails presented around Europe, it was held that this was the one most likely to be one of the actual nails used in the Crucifixion.
The Titulus was the piece of wood nailed onto the cross detailing the crimes of the victim. On Jesus’ Cross it bore the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King…” The Titulus was discovered in 1492, built into the wall of the basilica behind a mosaic that was being repaired. Helena was said to have divided the relic into three parts, giving one to Constantine who was then building his new capitol, leaving one in Jerusalem and sending the last to Rome.
Another reliquary contained splinters of the True Cross. The palibum (horizontal piece) of the good thief’s cross was also displayed. On the other side of the main altar was the Chapel of St. Helena. A large mosaic of St. Helena overshadowed the entrance of her chapel.
We had reached our threshold of basilica visits for the day and were now making a conscious effort to appreciate the treasures about us. However, there was one more pilgrim church to visit before we could call it a day.
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