September 14th is a feast day known as ‘The Exaltation of the Holy Cross’ which, rather than commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, marks three major events in the history of the Christian faith.
The first event is the recovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the first half of the 4th century. According to early historians, she actually uncovered three crosses that were believed to have been used to crucify Jesus and the two thieves Dismas and Gestas, one of which bore a label bearing Jesus’ name. She remained unconvinced of its legitimacy until a miracle revealed that this was indeed the ‘True Cross’. Several places claim to hold relics of this cross, including churches in Jerusalem, Armenia and Ethiopia.
The second event is the dedication of churches built by Emperor Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Calvary. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also known as the Church of the Resurrection) in Jerusalem is considered to be the most holiest site for Christians and has been an important pilgrimage site for the Christian faith since it was consecrated on September 13th 335. During the two-day festival to celebrate, the True Cross was carried outside the following day so that the faithful could pray before it.
The third and final event is the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem in 629CE by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius after seizing it back from Sassanid Emperor Khosrau II who had removed part of the cross from Jerusalem as a trophy when he captured the city 15 years earlier.
In 1214 the True Cross was offered to the Knights Templar in a bid to lift the siege of Damietta in Egypt. However, the besieged didn’t actually have it. It was last seen in the city of Damascus in the late 12th century but several places claim to hold relics, including churches in Jerusalem, Armenia and Ethiopia.