A Story of the True Cross

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Frescoes painted by Piero della Francesca in the Cappella Maggiore of the Church of San Francesco


crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes) Many stories abide in history regarding the history of the True Cross on which Jesus was Crucified. One of the more Miraculous, interesting, and complex stories was related in a 13th Century text by Jacopo de Voragine entitled "Golden Legend". This popular text, typical of the medieval love for accounts of Miraculous Events, inspired several fresco cycles in the 14th and 15th Centuries in churches belonging to the Franciscans. The above frescoes were painted by Piero della Francesca in the Cappella Maggiore of the church of San Francesco during the 1450's. The 13th Century Crucifix with Saint Francis was already in the church when Piero della Francesco frescoed the Chapel.

The story tells how Adam, on his Deathbed, sends his son Seth to the Archangel Michael, who gives him some seedlings from the tree of Original Sin to be placed in his father's mouth at the moment of his Death.


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Multiple scenes are depicted in the above fresco. On the right, the ancient Adam, seated on the ground and surrounded by his children, sends Seth to Archangel Michael. Far in the background is seen the meeting between Seth and Michael. On the left, in the shadow of a huge tree, Adam's body is buried in the presence of his family.


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The tree that grows on the Patriarch's grave is chopped down by King Solomon and its wood, which could not be used for anything else, is thrown across a stream to serve as a bridge. The Queen of Sheba, on her journey to see Solomon and hear his words of wisdom, is about to cross the stream, when by a miracle she learns that the Savior will be crucified on that wood. She kneels in devout adoration. The scene at the right depicts the formal meeting between the Queen and Solomon. When Solomon discovers the nature of the Divine Message received by the Queen of Sheba, he orders that the bridge be removed and the wood, which will cause the end of the Kingdom of the Jews, be buried.


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In the fresco depicting the burial of the wood, note that the grain of the wood forms a halo above
the head of the first bearer, who thus appears as a prefiguration of Christ on the way to Calvary.
But the wood is eventually found and, after a second premonitory message, becomes the
instrument of the Passion.


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Three Centuries after the Passion, just before the battle of Ponte Milvio against Maxentius, Emperor Constantine
is told in a dream, that he must fight in the name of the Cross in order to overcome his enemy. This scene is set in
the middle of the night. Inside his tent, the Emperor Constantine lies asleep. The angel above delivers the dream
and projects all the light for this scene.


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The battle is depicted in the fresco as a splendid parade, from which the crashing of arms has definitely been eliminated. After
Constantine's victory, his mother Helena travels to Jerusalem to recover the miraculous wood.


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No one knows where the Relic of the Cross is, except a Jew called Judas. Judas is tortured in a well to supply the
needed information and confesses that he knows the Temple where the three Crosses of Calvary are hidden.


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Helena orders that the Temple be destroyed; the three Crosses are found as depicted on the left of the fresco; and the True Cross is recognized in the right scene, from the other two crosses, because it causes the miraculous resurrection of a dead youth.


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In the year 615, the Persian King Chosroes steals the wood, setting it up as an object of worship.
The Eastern Emperor Heraclius wages war on the Persian King and, having defeated him, returns to Jerusalem with the Holy Wood.


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But a Divine Power prevents the Emperor from making a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. So Heraclius, setting aside all pomp and magnificence, enters the city of Jerusalem carrying the Cross in a gesture of humility, following Jesus Christ's example.


Many stories of the True Cross abound, and they make interesting and easy reading. For further information on the True Cross or Saint Helena, the Catholic Encyclopedia can be accessed on the web via the buttons below:



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