A Garner of Saints – The Origin, Invention and Exaltation of the Cross

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Origin: Adam being sick sent Seth to the gate of Paradise to ask for the oil of mercy to heal him. The archangel Michael appeared and said that this might not be until 5500 years had been accomplished. Meanwhile he gave him a branch of the tree whereof Adam had eaten, bidding him plant it on Mount Lebanon, saying that when it bore fruit his father should be healed. In the days of Solomon it became a mighty tree, and the king commanded that it should be cut down and used in a house in the forest of Lebanon; but no fit piece could be found, for all were either too short or too long, so that the builders threw it into a marsh, where it served as a bridge. When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon she saw in spirit to what use the wood was to be put, and refused to cross by it, falling down instead, to adore it, though some say that she informed Solomon that a man was to be suspended on it through whose death the kingdom of the Jews would be blotted out. Solomon therefore caused it to be buried deep in the earth, and in after times the pool of Bethesda was made there. When the time of the Passion drew near the tree rose up and floated on the surface, and the Jews took it and made the cross with it. After the Crucifixion it remained buried for 300 years.

The Invention: The Emperor Constantine being brought up as a pagan, served the idols. But in the year 333 as he was marching against his enemies assembled by the River Danube, he slept and was aroused by an angel who pointed him to a cross in the sky round which was written in letters of gold, “In hoc signo vinces.” Accordingly he caused a cross to be made and carried in front of the army, and gained a signal victory over his enemies. Returning to the city he enquired the meaning of the signs of his priests, but they declared themselves ignorant. However, certain Christians expounded the matter to him. After this Constantine reverenced Christ as one of the gods of the Gentiles, but did not receive baptism and continued to persecute the Christians. For this cause God smote him with leprosy. The priests prescribed him a bath of the blood of 3,000 infants, but aroused to pity by the sorrow of the mothers, Constantine restored their children to them. On the following night the Apostles Peter and Paul appeared to him and said that they were sent to him by God to reward him for his just deed by the recovery of his health by immersion in the only bath which could cure him. At their command Constantine sent for Pope Sylvester, who came to Rome with his priests and companions, expecting martyrdom. But Constantine received them graciously and told them of his vision, enquiring who were the gods who had appeared to him. And Sylvester replied that they were no gods but the apostles of Christ, and sending his deacon for images of Peter and Paul he showed them to the emperor, who declared that they were the same who had appeared to him. When the emperor desired to enter the bath of mercy and be cleansed, Sylvester explained that by the bath was signified baptism, instructed him in the Christian faith and exhorted him to fast and to open the prisons. In the evening of the Sabbath the emperor was baptized and immediately became whole. A wonderful light shone round about, and Constantine declared that he had seen the Saviour, who had commanded that he alone should be worshipped as the true God.

When Helena the mother of Constantine heard these things, she wrote from Bithynia to praise him for forsaking idols but blaming him for worshipping a man who had been crucified, for she herself had been lately converted to Judaism. The emperor invited her to come to Rome, bringing the doctors of the Jews that they might dispute with the Christians. Helena brought 140 learned Jews who came before the emperor to dispute with Sylvester. But the pope single-handed proved the faith of Christ and converted the Jews. An appeal was then made to miracles and a bull was brought in, so ferocious that he could scarcely be held by a hundred men. On the Jew Zambri whispering a word in his ear the bull straightway fell down dead, but Sylvester replied that demons could destroy life while only the true God could restore the dead to life. Whereupon, invoking the name of Christ he made the bull to rise, and straightway the animal rose up, being now perfectly tame and gentle. Thus Sylvester converted the queen, the Jews and the judges, together with a great multitude of people.

After this dispute the spirit infused Helena with a wish to discover the wood of the true cross. Coming to Jerusalem with a great army she assembled all the wise men of the Jews to the number of 500. And as they were wondering what this might mean, one of them named Judas declared that she wished to learn where the cross might be, and warned them that no one should tell her, as upon its discovery the law of the Jews would be done away. And when the queen questioned them they denied all knowledge of the matter, so that she commanded that they should all be burned. And they, greatly terrified, pointed out Judas as the son of a prophet and well skilled in the law, who would tell her all. Then the queen questioned Judas, offering him death or life according as he should discover the cross. But he asserted that he knew nothing. Helena ordered him to be put into a well and there starved, and on the seventh day Judas promised to take the queen to the spot. When they came to Golgotha, as he prayed there, the place was shaken and an aromatic odour pervaded the air, so that Judas marvelled and was then converted. Now the site was occupied by a temple of Venus, erected by the Emperor Hadrian, so that if anyone attempted to worship Christ there he would appear to be worshipping Venus, and thus the place was all but forgotten. This temple the queen caused to be destroyed and the foundations to be ploughed up.

After this Judas and his companions began to dig, and at twenty feet below the surface they found three crosses. And while they doubted which was the cross of Christ and which were those of the robbers, a man was carried past to burial. Judas therefore stopped the bearers, and after two of the crosses had been laid on the dead man he did not move, but when they placed the third upon him he immediately arose. A certain woman, also, of the first in the city, was lying half dead, and when the bishop of Jerusalem laid the first and second crosses upon her it profited nothing, but so soon as she came in contact with the third she rose up whole. This therefore was known to be the cross of Christ, as was more fully revealed when they came to read the title which Pilate had placed upon it, and which had been almost obliterated. But when the devil heard this he wailed in a terrible voice, and threatened Judas with torments and much persecution.

Judas meanwhile was baptized and became bishop of Jerusalem. And when the empress desired to possess the nails of the true cross she sent the bishop to seek for them. And as he prayed they appeared in the earth shining like gold. Accordingly he delivered them to Helena, who adored them. And she caused the cross to be cut through the middle, giving one half to Constantine and leaving the other at Jerusalem in a silver shrine. One of the nails she put in the helmet and the other in the bridle of the emperor, that he might go safely to war, the third she reserved for herself, though some say she threw it into the Adriatic, which till then had been a whirlpool. 3rd May.

Exaltation: Now Cosrhoes, king of the Persians, came to Jerusalem, after conquering all the kingdoms of the east, and’tarried by the portion of the cross left there. And willing to be worshipped as God he built a tower of gold and silver, took the cross thither, and commanded that men should call him King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Then the Emperor Heraclius marched against him, and he agreed to fight in single combat with the son of Cosrhoes, whom he slew. And immediately the whole army of the Persians was converted and baptized. But Cosrhoes knew nothing of this, and as he was seated in his tower Heraclius came upon him and beheaded him, because he refused to be baptized; but because he had been a king and had honoured the cross after his fashion, they gave him burial. And so Heraclius took the cross back to Jerusalem, and he proposed to enter the city in state; but when he reached the gate by which the Lord had entered before his Passion, the stones closed against him. And an angel appeared above the gate holding a cross and reproved him for his pride. Then the emperor humbled himself, and taking the cross on his shoulders entered the city barefooted and in his shirt. And straightway the gate gave him admission, and the sweet odour which had left the city with the cross returned to it again. Miracles were wrought there by the cross, a dead man was raised, four paralytics cured, ten lepers cleansed, fifteen blind received their sight, and many devils were cast out. 16th September.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “The Origin, Invention and Exaltation of the Cross”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 April 2017. Web. 22 July 2017. <>