Question from on 04-29-2007:
It is my understanding that certain relics, such as the spear Christ was pierced with, the nails, the crown of thorns, the cross itself...are in the hands of the Church and on display somewhere. Is there a book or website you can recommmend where I can get more information on them if this is true?
Answer by Matthew Bunson on 05-06-2007:
There are a number of relics that have long been revered for their antiquity, such as the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, and the Lance of Longinus, the spear tip that was thrust into the side of Christ while he was on the Cross.
The purported relic of the Crown of Thorns has a rather convoluted past. I would suggest reading the article on it from the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04540b.htm). Suffice to say, the Crown spent many years as one of the great relics of Jerusalem until passing in 1238 from Baldwin II, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, to King St. Louis of France in the hopes that he might assist moribund Latin Kingdom. At the time, it was in the hands of the Venetians. King Louis brought it to France and placed it in the Sainte-Chapelle. It has remained in France ever since.
While question remains as to its absolute authenticity, the Lance has a long history; it is currently preserved in the so-called Habsburg Regalia in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The Cross on which Our Lord was crucified became one the most famous relics in all of Christendom. It is unclear what precisely became of the Cross (either the horizontal beam or the vertical post), and there is little recorded about it with any certainty. It can be assumed that the cross (perhaps both the post and the beam) were somehow preserved. This is supported, of course, by the now famous account of its discovery around 326 by St. Helena (d. 330), mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Although he made no mention of the finding of the True Cross, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) first discussed its veneration in his catechetical sermons (348-350). A generally disputed letter was supposedly sent by Cyril to Emperor Constantius II in 351, detailing the finding of the Cross sometime during the reign of Constantine (306-337). Although scholars consider the letter to be of highly questionable authenticity, it does indicate that the story of the True Cross was circulating by the mid-fourth century. Subsequent accounts of the relics added details to its history and mystical attributes. Revered as a truly important relic, the Cross was the stated object of at least two military campaigns, that of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (622-628) and the Fourth Crusade (1204). The Feast of the Finding of the True Cross was celebrated by the Church until 1960.
Relics purporting to be of the True Cross were found in large number during the Middle Ages, some of them spurious so the task of tracing the precise relics is a complicated one.