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What is the True Cross?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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In Christianity, the True Cross is the cross upon which Christ was crucified. Since this cross holds such a special place in Christian theology, it is considered an object of veneration and awe. Although the True Cross is no longer intact, many churches claim to have remnants of it, which they keep in reliquaries, along with other sacred objects. It is also possible to purchase an alleged piece of the True Cross, for a hefty price.

According to the mythology surrounding the True Cross, it was found in 300 CE by the Empress Helena. She visited the site where the crucifixion took place, and found the cross of Christ, along with the crosses used to hang the two thieves next to him. The True Cross revealed itself by curing a very ill woman, and the legend of the True Cross was born.

Supposedly, the Empress Helena took the nails from the True Cross, sending them to her son, the Emperor of Rome. The cross itself appears to have changed hands several times, until it was broken up in the 600s when part of the cross was taken as a trophy. Devout Christians hid the rest, producing it again during a successful Crusade so that it could be taken to safety. By 1200, the large pieces of the True Cross disappeared completely, with fragments appearing all over Europe.

Many people have suggested that the fragments of the True Cross found in most churches are probably frauds. Several of these fragments have matched each other when analyzed under microscope, but these matches do not necessarily imply that these pieces come from the True Cross. During the period after the Crusades, numerous religious relics were brought into Europe from the Middle East, and many of them were probably of questionable provenance.

Churches which have a piece of the True Cross tend to guard it very carefully, whether or not the fragment's origins can be proved. Catholic and Orthodox churches are most likely to have such fragments, since these branches of Christianity are well known for their relics and sacred objects. Visitors to these churches may be able to see the relics behind glass, and they are sometimes also carried on parade for major holidays. In some cases, visitors can actually touch the relic or the reliquary, in the belief that the True Cross has potentially healing powers, or that it may bring about a spiritual experience.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon115402 — On Oct 01, 2010

They have always been for sale to anyone with enough money, and even stolen by churches from one another (in particular the case of Saint Foy comes to mind). Don't think just because something is venerated that people have a shred of decency, or that money isn't always worth more than your faith.

By anon42191 — On Aug 19, 2009

The Relics of the True Cross *cannot* be sold for a "hefty price"! Relics in general cannot be sold either!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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