What happened to the True Cross of Christ?


In 1203, the fragment preserved in Constantinople suffered the effects of the Fourth Crusade, which left from the Republic of Venice in an attempt to recover Jerusalem but was diverted to Constantinople to topple the Byzantine Empire and found in its place an Eastern Roman Empire. The relics of the Palatine Chapel of Pharos were shared between the Venetians and the new empire. Nevertheless the latter, threatened from all sides and on the brink of bankruptcy, had to sell its treasures. St. Louis, in 1238, bought two fragments of the Cross, then in 1242 other relics, presumed to be the Instruments of the Passion (crown of thorns, the Holy Spear, the Holy Sponge …), which he had preserved in the Sainte-Chapelle, built for this purpose on the Île de la Cité, in Paris. But during the French Revolution (1794), the fragments of the Cross disappeared. Only a few fragments and a Holy Nail remain, and are conserved today in the treasury of the sacristy of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The Lignum Crucis

All the pieces of wood distributed or sold as relics across the globe over the centuries (especially since the Middle Ages) have been preciously conserved in a number of churches. According to various analyses and inquiries, the supposed “true” fragments of Jesus’ cross only make up in volume a tenth of the Cross; all the rest were determined to be of a questionable source. We refer to the likely relics as Lignum Crucis (“wood of the Cross”). The largest fragment is preserved in Greece in the monastery of Mount Athos; other fragments are in Rome, Brussels, Venice, Ghent, and Paris.