"Glorification of the Cross" by Adam Elsheimer
Today is the Feast "In Exultation of the Holy Cross." Yesterday, I was trying to figure out what to write about today, since it is a special day of devotion for me. Then while praying the Divine Office this morning the Holy Spirit gave me an idea.
I love making pilgrimages, and have been blessed to make several to Italy and mainly Rome (my ultimate goal is to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land). I am quite familiar with Rome having studied there for a semester in 1993 with the University of Dallas Rome program, and then living in Norcia, Italy as a novice monk for a little over a year in 2001-2002.
In 2000, Divine Providence finally brought me back to Rome for my second visit. This was a true blessing. My first priority was vocational discernment, but a blessed "extra" was that I was able to be in Rome during the Holy Year. Since I knew much more about Rome since my 1993 stay, it was really like a "spiritual Disneyland" if I may use the term.
One of the most moving experiences I have had was my visit to the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which is just down the street from the Saint John Lateran (the Pope's cathedral).
Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalme
The name sounds odd (why not "Santa Croce in Roma?"), but it is aplty named. When Saint Helena came back from the Holy Land with the relics they also brought back soil from the Holy Land. So, they put down the soil from Jerusalem and on top of that, built the church. Thus it is “in” Jerusalem, because it was built on the soil of Jerusalem.
Inside they have a great reliquary with several great relics from the Holy Land. (I’ll quickly say that some people may be skeptical of the authenticity of these, but I guess I would like to be skeptical right back at them and ask them to prove that they aren’t real.)
The reliquary was arranged differently when I visited so that everything is now in a large glass case which you could walk around. I don’t know if the pictures I found off the web were taken before or after 2000.
Anyway, the relics are fascinating. Here are three reliquaries.
The reliquary on the left contains the finger of Saint Thomas, the one he would have used to probe the Sacred Wounds of Christ when He appeared again and confronted Saint Thomas about his doubt in His Resurrection.
The reliquary in the middle contains pieces from: the pillar at which Christ was scourged, the Holy Sepulcre where Christ was buried, and Christ's crib (the rest of which is in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome).
The reliquary on the right contains two thorns from the Crown of Thorns.
This reliquary contains one of the nails with which Christ was crucified. It is about the size of a nail used on railroad tracks.
There is also a part of the sign which was hung above Christ when He was crucified. The "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum" (Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews) sign.
One of the largest relics is that of part of the crossbeam of the cross on which Saint Dismas (the Good Thief) was crucified.
Finally, at the center of the relics is a cross containing pieces from the True Cross on which Christ was crucified.
At first it was just like being in a museum looking at significant old stuff, but slowly I became overwhelmed at the realization of what I was looking at. These weren't just relics. These were the actual physical instruments which took a part in bringing about my redemption and the redemption of all men. These were things that had touched Jesus Christ ... GOD HIMSELF. Here they were, right in front of me. Like I said, I was just completely overwhelmed. Never have I been that moved in visiting a shrine.
I guess I can truly say I have literally cried at the foot of the Cross myself.
If you ever make a pilgrimage to Rome, make sure this is one of the places you visit. And make sure you are recollected when you see the relics.