September 14

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Ember day (Fall)

The Story of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Early in the fourth century, Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the second-century Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher on that spot. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.

The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”

To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.


The Syriac Church of the East celebrates the finding of the Cross on September 13, and considers it to be a major feast. The Syriac Church considers the Sign of the Cross to be a seventh sacrament, by which all of the other sacraments are sealed and perfected (it takes the place of marriage, which they do not name in their traditional list of sacraments). Saranaya (Syriac) hold a shara every year in cities like Chicago, Illinois, and Modesto, California, and other parts of the world. The shara in Modesto is held every Sunday prior to September 13 at East La Loma Park, where they sacrifice lambs in remembrance of the Feast Of the Cross. People gather and feast and sing and dance to celebrate a happy day.


the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem


What was the wood that made the Cross?

It was a trinity of wood: Cypress, Pine, and Cedar

The fall of man came from the tree of life and and its seeds saved man!

Old Testament - New Testament

One of the most intriguing legends makes a direct connection between the Fall of Man and the Passion, by which Christ paid for the sin of Adam. Seth, one of Adam and Eve’s sons, sought relief for Adam when he was sick. Denied the request for a few drops of oil from the Tree of Life, he was given a branch of that tree instead. Upon Adam’s death, Seth planted the branch over his grave, and the tree grew. From that tree, centuries later, was hewn the vertical part of the cross.

“The crossbar was made of cypress, the piece to rest the feet upon was of palm, and the inscription was written on a piece of olive,” Wall relates. 

Another form of the same legend, however, explains that St. Michael the Archangel, who refused Seth the oil from the tree, gave him three seeds from the Tree of Knowledge (the one from which Adam and Eve illicitly ate) to be placed beneath the tongue of Adam when he was buried. The heavenly messenger promised that from those seeds should grow a tree that would bear fruit whereby Adam should be saved and live again.

“From the three seeds sprang a trinity of trees of three separate woods, cedar, cypress, and pine, although united in one trunk,” Wall writes. “From this tree Moses cut his rod. It was transplanted by David to the borders of a pool near Jerusalem, and beneath its branches he composed his psalms.”

Solomon had it cut down to form a column in his Temple, but being too short, it was rejected and cast over a stream to serve as a bridge. The queen of Sheba, when visiting Solomon, refused to pass over on that tree, declaring that it would one day occasion the destruction of the Hebrews. The king ordered that it should be removed and buried. This was done near the pool of Bethesda, at which time the virtues of the wood were immediately communicated to the waters. After the condemnation of Christ, it was found floating on the surface of the pool and the Jews took it for the main beam of the Cross.

There has long been a tradition that the cross was made up of a number of different woods — usually three, in honor of the Trinity, but sometimes more. “An old legend makes out that the Cross was made of ‘Palm of Victory,’ ‘Cedar of Incorruption,’ and ‘Olive for Royal and Priestly Unction.’ And in a Latin verse we are told:

The foot of the Cross is Cedar, The Palm holds back the hands, The tall Cypress holds the body, The Olive in joy is inscribed.

The question of where the wood of the cross came from has also given rise to traditions leading to the construction of eccleciastical structures to commemorate the supposed spot or spots. “To the west of Jerusalem is a fair church where the tree of the Cross grew,” Sir John Mandeville said around 1360.

Henry Maundrell (1665-1701), in his description of a Greek convent that he visited about half an hour’s distance from Jerusa­lem, says: “That which most deserves to be noted in the convent is the reason of its name and foundation. It is because there is the earth that nourished the root, that bore the tree, that yielded the timber, that made the Cross. Under the high altar you are shown a hole in the ground where the stump of the tree stood.”

Wall identifies this as the Greek Orthodox monastery of the Holy Cross, a mile or two west of Jerusalem. It was founded not long after the discovery of the cross by St. Helena.