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Helena (c. 255—330) mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I.

St Cyril (c. 315—387)


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Dedications of churches to St Cross or Holy Cross are mentioned in this work only to remove misconceptions. These churches are dedicated not to a saint but to Christ on the Cross, the instrument of his humiliation, which has been venerated in Christian tradition as the object most closely associated with his redemptive death. It was believed to have been discovered at Jerusalem in 335 in the course of excavations for the foundations of Constantine's basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Mount Calvary. Details about his mother Helen's share in the find, together with some cures associated with it, may be apocryphal. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in 346 that ‘the saving wood of the Cross was found at Jerusalem in the time of Constantine and that it was disturbed fragment by fragment from this spot’. The stem and title of the Cross were venerated at Jerusalem before the end of the 4th century, described by the pilgrim Etheria and others. From there it spread to Rome, where the basilica of S. Croce was built to house relics of the Passion and Cross, and thence to other churches in the West.

One sign of Anglo-Saxon veneration of the Cross is the fine poem The Dream of the Rood, with unites patristic theology with heroic ideals. Part of it was written in runic characters on the Ruthwell Cross (c.700) and part on the 10th-century Brussels reliquary, which contains a piece of the Cross given to King Alfred by Pope Marinus in 885. Later evidence for its veneration is found in the poem Elene, in calendars, martyrologies, and at least 106 ancient dedications, including those of Holyrood Abbey (Scotland) and St Cross (Winchester). Later legends about the Cross were recorded in the Golden Legend and illustrated by artists such as Piero della Francesca in the church of San Francesco, Arezzo (Tuscany).

Feasts of the Holy Cross are the Exaltation on 14 September (which commemorates its restoration to Jerusalem by the Emperor Heraclius) and the Finding on 3 May. The latter was suppressed in the 1969 revision of the Roman calendar, but the former retained.

O.D.C.C., s.v.;M. Swanton, The Dream of the Rood (1970).

Subjects: Christianity.

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