Voice of Russia: Relics of the True Cross and More

imageJulia Galiullina writing for the Voice of Russia, Detectives of centuries-old forgeries: Voice of Russia:

A center which will check the authenticity of old Christian relics has opened in the Russian city of Voronezh as a branch of the local university.

This is the first such center in Russia.

At present, the Russian Orthodox Church is receiving many relics from abroad, and a strong need has appeared to check their authenticity.

[ . . . ]

Fake Christian relics started to appear in the 11th century A.D. At that time, many churches wanted to have relics of great and venerated saints, and swindlers often used this demand to their advantage.

Some centuries later, fake particles of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, nails and other “sacred” artifacts, which allegedly had to do with His passions, started to appear.

Many relics, either genuine or fake, were obtained by Europeans during the crusades. Later, they were kept in monasteries all over Europe and attracted many pilgrims.

[ . . . ]

The first examination which the newly-founded center in Voronezh held was to examine the authenticity of 10 pieces of wood, which were allegedly parts of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

The examination proved that some of these particles were genuine, while the others were fake.


Image: Discovery of the True Cross (ca. 1385) Fresco, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

5 thoughts on “Voice of Russia: Relics of the True Cross and More”

  1. Perhaps there’s some consultancy positions here for some surviving members of the STURP team. The Voice of Russia web-site mentions that a few of the alleged relics from the True Cross proved to be fir, and I guess there wouldn’t have been much of that ever growing in Jerusalem.

    I’ve written postings on the Vera Crux on this site before. The Crusaders carried the cross-beam, found by Helena, as a talisman into battle; It was lost in 1187 on the field of Hattin in Galilee in the Frankish battle with Saladin, who dragged it tied to the tail of his horse through the streets of Damascus, after which it disappeared. I guess his soldiers might have used it for firewood. I’d say there wouldn’t be many authentic relics from the cross-beam, although possibly some fragments might have found there way back to Europe.

    A surviving fragment of Helena’s Titulus Crucis was said to have been rediscovered in 1492 in the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome. The surviving fragment is clearly only a portion of the original. It weighs 687 gm, measures 25.3 cm × 14 cm × 2.6 cm, is made of walnut wood, was originally painted white, and with incised letters showing traces of red or black. The sequence of the lettering is Hebrew (or Aramaic), Greek and Latin, which is at variance with the gospels of Luke and John who both give different sequences. Some have argued that this sequence difference is an argument against forgery. The Greek and Latin lettering reads from right to left, either through ignorance or as a parody of the Hebrew. In 2002, the University of Arizona conducted carbon dating tests, and asserted that the present artifact was made between 980 and 1146 AD. But of course we’ve heard all about problems with C14 tests before. On the other hand it may have been intended as a replica of the original, which certainly existed as attested by several witnesses including Egeria 383 AD, Antoninus 6th c, Saints Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, and John Chrysostom.

    A good reference work which makes a fascinating read on the True Cross is: “The Quest For The True Cross”:by Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D’Ancona; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.

  2. One of the most remote and ancient monasteries in Spain is Santo Toribio de Liebana. The monks custody what according to tradition is the biggest piece of the Lignum Crucis (cross). Its vertical stick is 69 cm high and the horizontal one measures 39 cms. In 1958 the Spanish Highest Council of Scientific Research (CSIC), the most important research body in Spain at that time (and probably now) analyzed this relic. They concluded that the wood was cypress being its botanic name “sempervivens L”, a very common species in Palestine. Their analysis- I don`t exactly know which ones- concluded that the relic might well be 2000 years old. However, nobody can go any further and claim that Jesus was nailed on that cross. Most the info is in Spanish but this is a good website to start with http://es.catholic.net/turismoreligioso/801/2760/articulo.php?id=8822

  3. Following the death of Herod the Great ~4 BCE, Archelaus made an unwise speech resulting in a riot which saw the death of about 3000 Jews. He then set off for Rome to obtain ratification of Herod’s final will from the emperor. During his absence, a rebellion broke out resulting in the Syrian governor crucifying 2000 rebels. Unless provenance of the Spanish relic can be tied to Helena’s discovery (which is supported by the Titulus), I guess it could be anybody’s cross even if it proves to be 2000 years old, That so many were executed by crucifixion may be one explanation of why alleged relics of the True Cross were so plentiful, although of course many others have also proved to be definitely fake, even made from European fir.

    We might speculate whether collective memory of the troubles following Herod’s death led to Matthew’s infancy narrative of the Slaughter of the Innocents, for which there is no other written corroboration.

    1. Daveb, the tradition says that this cross was, as you mention, discovered by Helena. More precisely, three crosses were discovered and to identify the true one, Macarius the bishop of Jerusalem at that time put them on the body of a recently deceased man. In contact with the authentic cross that man came back to live. Please note that this is tradition and legends. Not history.

  4. Gabriel: I’m well aware of the story, it’s covered in the work I mentioned at #1, by Thiede and D’Ancona.

    Critics cite the silence of the fourth century historian Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, on Helena’s alleged discovery, as evidence that the story of the cross’s discovery is a later fabrication, as Eusebius otherwise describes the Empress’ pilgrimage and her activities in extravagant detail. His silence on the discovery of the cross may be explained in terms of his rivalry with Macarius, or some doubt he may have had that the relics were indeed authentic.

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