The Relics of the Passion
by: John Tyrrell
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The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris was constructed by Louis IX in the mid-13th century to house his collection of relics of the Passion of Christ. Amongst these relics were a fragment of the True Cross, the vinegar soaked sponge, the crown of thorns, a nail used in the crucifixion, and a piece of the spear point which pierced Christ's side while on the cross. And the good King Louis IX had no doubts about their authenticity.
A good part of Louis' collection came out of the sack of Constantinople, that part of the Crusades when the Crusaders decided it would be more fun and much more profitable to slaughter their fellow Christians than to fight for Jerusalem.
Constantinople had a large supply of relics available to be stolen because Helena, mother of Constantine discovered many of them. There's an interesting tall tale about her discovery of the True Cross which was widely believed in the Middle Ages, but pretty much discounted today.
Apparently a Jewish family had kept the knowledge of the location of the cross as a family secret for nearly three centuries. Helena found out about this family in the traditional Christian way by torturing a group of rabbis for information on the True Cross, and then threatening them with being burnt alive when they were unable to satisfy her demands. This threat motivated them to give her a name. A member of the family which had supposedly kept the secret, conveniently named Judas, was then imprisoned by Helena, thrown into a well and starved until he disclosed the location of the cross under a temple of Venus. (Where else? That makes so much sense)
Helena tore down the temple, and found three crosses buried underneath. Not knowing which one was Christ's and which belonged to the thieves crucified with him she "tested" the crosses with a newly deceased man. The first two crosses had no effect, the third when brought close to the body brought him back to life.
Piero della Francesca: Discovery and Testing of the True Cross
And that's one story of the origin of the all those fragments of the True Cross in churches and cathedrals throughout the world, and which are even available on eBay today complete with certificates of authenticity.
Religious scams work better with a good story behind them.
- King Louis did not have the benefit of Pat Robertson's advice to avoid religious scamsters.
- The question "Why would they bother doing this?" springs to mind.
- Another version does without the handing down of the location within a family, and thus tastefully leaves out the torture of the rabbis and the unfortunately named Judas. And a sick woman is healed rather than a dead man brought back to life.
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