The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates two historical events: the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, in 320 under the temple of Venus in Jerusalem, and the dedication in 335 of the basilica and shrine built on Calvary by Constantine, which mark the site of the Crucifixion.
ST. HELENA'S DISCOVERY IN JERUSALEM
The Roman Emperor Constantine's mother, St. Helena, a convert to Christianity, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to locate where the important events in the life of Jesus Christ occurred, and to preserve the relics of the Christian faith that remained there. One of her goals was to find the place of Jesus' crucifixion and the very Cross on which he was hung.
Through interviewing many locals, and with the assistance of the Bishop of Jerusalem, St. Macarius, she discovered the spot and found the True Cross which had been previously hidden by the Jews. According to the historian Rufinus, the identity of the True Cross was confirmed by a miraculous healing after St. Macarius recited this prayer:
"O Lord, who by the Passion of Thine only Son on the cross, didst deign to restore salvation to mankind, and who even now hast inspired thy handmaid Helena to seek for the blessed wood to which the author of our salvation was nailed, show clearly which it was, among the three crosses, that was raised for Thy glory. Distinguish it from those which only served for a common execution. Let this woman who is now expiring return from death's door as soon as she is touched by the wood of salvation."
The date of this discovery and miracle, according to tradition, was May 3rd, 326 A.D. St. Helena had a church built on the original site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Her son Constantine dedicated this church on September 13-14 in the year 335 A.D. Even today, the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem, or the Via Dolorosa, end at this very spot.
THE FEAST DAY
The True Cross was considered a most valuable treasure of the Church and became a highly venerated object, and the feast honoring the Elevation of the Holy Cross has continually been celebrated until this day. It is celebrated on May 3rd on the old Roman calendar (the date of its discovery), and on September 14th in Jerusalem and on the new Roman calendar (the date the church was dedicated).
THE TRUE CROSS IS STOLEN
The Cross of Christ was kept by the Church in Jerusalem, but was absconded by Chosroas, King of the Persians, in the year 614 A.D. after the Persian invasion of Syria and Palestine. In the year 629 A.D. the Cross was recovered and brought back to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople. The relic of the True Cross was then restored to its place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The date the True Cross was brought back to Jerusalem was September 14th! The anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the date on which Jerusalem celebrated the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.
Tradition has it that Emperor Heraclius carried the Cross on his back, a public act of homage, in order to restore it to its rightful place; but, he was only able to move it after he had removed his royal garments and put on the humble garments of repentance instead.