Often in pop culture, medieval Catholics are portrayed as boldly (maybe blindly) going off to fight in the Crusades and coming back from the Holy Land with relics of the Crucifixion of Christ. But the actual stories of the relics of the Crucifixion and how they were discovered are infinitely more fascinating. J. Charles Wall tells many of these stories in his book, Relics from the Crucifixion: Where They Went and How They Got There.
Here are five of our favorite stories:
1. Saint Helena was a major player in finding relics of the cross
Saint Helena’s son, Emperor Constantine I, gave her as much money as she wanted and charged her with finding as many relics in the Holy Land as possible. As the story goes, when she got to the site of Jesus’ tomb near Calvary, she found a temple erected to a pagan goddess over top it. When she had the temple torn down, she found three crosses and the nails used to crucify Jesus. Through a miracle, she was able to determine which cross was that of Jesus (the True Cross) and brought it and the nails home with her. She stored the Cross in her private chapel and had one of the nails made into a bridle for her son’s horse when he went into battle.
2. Saint Veronica received a true image of Christ
This is the veil that was used to wipe Jesus’ face on His way to Calvary is also known as the Volto Santo (Holy Face) because the image of Christ’s face was left on the veil after she wiped His face. Veronica is actually a colloquial blend of the Latin word vera, meaning truth, and the Greek word eikon, meaning image, signifying that she was the recipient of the True Image of Christ. Tradition holds that Veronica is actually the bleeding woman healed by touching Jesus’ cloak earlier in the Gospels.
3. There are relics from the crown of thorns
There are actually quite a few relics of the crown of thorns that are known today that claim to be the true relic. In his book, Wall gives a rundown of the history of this relic, the fates of those who’ve held it, and a list of towns where thorns have been found.
4. The Shroud of Turin gives a look at all of the wounds of Christ
In addition to the five wounds of Christ we know from the Bible (nail marks in His feet and wrists and the lance in His right side), the Shroud of Turin also shows scourge marks on Christ’s back and thighs. There’s also a mark on His left shoulder, which is believed to be an injury sustained from falling under the weight of the cross.
5. The words of John’s gospel confirm the relics of the true cross
Along with the cross and nails, Saint Helena also found the board with that hung on the cross above Jesus’ head. Each of the Gospel writers gives this board slightly different wording, but the one found by Saint Helena matches word-for-word with what Saint John transcribes it in his writings. Another interesting fact about the board is that workmen rediscovered it in 1492!
J. Charles Wall tells so many more amazing and awe-inspiring stories of the relics from the crucifixion in his book. He carefully lays out the history of each relic, and discusses the probability of the authenticity of the relic. Wall also explains how the relics are venerated, and why they matter to us now. Want to know more about the rich history of the items surrounding Christ’s death? Pick up a copy of Relics from the Crucifixion!