« AnteriorContinuar »
THE Exaltation of the Holy Cross is annually celebrated in remembrance of the honour which has ever been paid to it by the faithful, since its discovery in the fourth age. Holy Church also on this day proclaims her gratitude for the watchful care of God in preserving it in Christian hands, amidst many dangers from infidel and sectarian enemies. The pious empress who was guided to its place of concealment, thought no reverence too great for so precious a memorial of the Redeemer's Passion; and, on the spot where His Cross had stood, her son, the emperor Constantine, erected a stately basilica, inclosing also the Sepulchre. It contained two churches; one in honour of the holy Cross, and the other of the Resurrection; and it is named indifferently from either of them. He also built a church on the Mount of Olives, in remembrance of the Lord's admirable Ascension. The site of Calvary and of the holy Sepulchre had been included within the walls of Jerusalem, when the city was rebuilt by the emperor Adrian. On the 13th of September, 335, the new basilica was solemnly consecrated in the presence of the bishops who had assisted at the council of Tyre, and who had gone to Jerusalem by the desire of the emperor. The next day was Sunday, and the holy Cross was exposed from a lofty place in the church to the veneration of the people. This custom was continued for many years afterwards, in
the middle of Lent, and about the time of Easter. The Eastern and Western Churches have celebrated the Exaltation of the holy Cross on the 14th of September, ever since the year 335. The festival was instituted by the emperor, and hence it is less honoured in the Latin Church than the feast of the Invention, which was appointed by the highest ecclesiastical authority, as Durandus remarks.
S. Helena had sent a portion of the holy Cross to Constantinople, and had carried another part with her to Rome, in 326; the rest was laid up in the basilica of the Resurrection at Jerusalem, and there it remained for nearly three centuries, till, in the year 614, the Persians, under their king Chosroes, crossed the Jordan, and made themselves masters of Palestine. They treated the Christians with great cruelty, burning their churches, and killing many clerks, monks, and religious women. They carried away the sacred vessels from Jerusalem, and the more precious wood of the holy Cross. The patriarch Zacharias also was made prisoner, with a great multitude of people. Many of them were afterwards sold to the Jews, who thirsted for their lives. It is said that more than 90,000 persons perished at that time. Two of the sacred relics were rescued by Nicetas, a patrician; the sponge, and the sacred lance with which the Redeemer's side was pierced. The sponge was sent to Constantinople, and was shown to the people on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in that year. The lance arrived there in the following month, and was publicly venerated.
Meanwhile the war with the Persians went on with various success. Heraclius, the Roman em
peror, made many proposals of peace, but could obtain no terms without first consenting to renounce the Crucified and to adore the sun. Thus the war may be said to have been in a manner sacred. About the year 623, Heraclius began to have a decided advantage over Chosroes; and finally, in 627, he defeated him in a great battle, and pursued him into Persia. Sarbazara, his general, deserted his cause, and assisted the emperor. Chosroes at length fell sick, and fearing that his end drew near, he appointed his favourite son as his successor. But Siroes, his eldest son, openly revolted, and proclaimed himself king. He thrust his father into a dark unwholesome dungeon, and loaded him with chains; and after inflicting every torture and indignity that he could devise, he condemned him to be shot at by archers, and thus to perish by a lingering death. Before he expired, he had seen all his children massacred before his eyes.
In February, 628, Siroes made peace with the Romans, and restored the prisoners, the patriarch of Jerusalem, and the holy Cross. It had been preserved in a temple where the statue of Chosroes was worshipped as a god. We may learn how highly the faithful venerated the sacred wood, from the name of "the Christians' God," by which it was known among the Persians. It was carried first to Constantinople, and in 629, in the beginning of spring, Heraclius translated it to Jerusalem, and restored it to its former place of honour. He accompanied it himself, in token of his gratitude to God for his success. It is related, that as he approached the city, bearing it in his arms, he suddenly came to
a stand, and could advance no further. Zacharias, who was with him, remarked that his royal apparel and state ill accorded with the humble guise of Him who had once borne the Cross along the way of sorrow. The emperor immediately laid aside his imperial garments, and entered Jerusalem barefoot, and meanly clad. The precious wood was still enclosed in its original case. The unbroken seals were recognized by the clergy, who opened them, and showed it to the people. From that time the feast of its Exaltation was kept in the East with greater devotion. On this day the Latin Church celebrates its recovery from the infidel Persians; but in the East the earlier institution of the festival is more regarded, and particular commemoration is made of the apparition of the Cross to the Emperor Constantine, which we shall presently hear of.
In 635, Heraclius retreated before the conquering army of the Mahommedan generals, and carried the holy Cross with him to Constantinople, foreseeing that Jerusalem would shortly be taken. It is probable that a small portion was left behind, for immediately after the holy city was retaken by the Crusaders in 1089, we read of their advancing to meet the sultan of Egypt with a "portion of the Cross, which a certain Syrian, a citizen of Jerusalem, had concealed in his house, and which had been handed down from father to son, and by a happy and loyal device had been kept secret from the Turks during the whole time1."
Many changes befel this fragment of the Cross
1 Gulielm. Malmes. De gest. Reg. Angl. lib. iv.
during the succeeding years. Sometimes it went before the Christian army to victory, and at other times, like the ark of God in ancient days, it fell into the hands of the infidels. It seems finally to have been carried to a place of safety by the Knights of the Temple. The prayers of Christian people were frequently asked for its recovery, and even so lately as the year 1509 we find these words in the form of bidding the bedes, in the Manual of York:— "We shall make specyall prayer. ... for the holy Crosse that God was done upon, that God for His merci bringe it out of the hethen mennes handes into Cristen mennes kepynge." But this form was probably copied out of older books.
A part of the holy Cross was sent from the East to Paris by Ansellus, a canon of that church, in the year 1109. Its arrival is annually commemorated in Paris on the first Sunday in August, which is called the feast of the Susception of the holy Cross.
In the year 1239, Baldwin, Emperor of Constantinople, sent a large portion of the Cross, the point of the lance, and the crown of thorns, to S. Louis, king of France. He feared that they would be no longer safe in his keeping, as the Sarazins were gaining ground in the East. And S. Louis had redeemed them at a large price. They were brought by the way of Venice, and thence were carried with great solemnity into France. The holy king went out to meet them as they approached, and bore them with much devotion to the church of S. Stephen, at Sens; where they were deposited till he had built a chapel in the royal palace to receive them. It was conseerated by the legate of the Holy See in the presence