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Significance of the Holy Relics of Jesus Christ’s Passion 

The central belief of Christianity is that God became man and dwelt among us on Earth. During His life, public ministry, death, and resurrection, the apostles and those who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, gave the upmost respect to those objects and places connected to the Lord. The early Church made great efforts to remember the places where Jesus preached, worked miracles, and suffered His passion. For this reason, pilgrims can visit these sites in the Holy Land today with historical certitude. In addition, the early Church wrote down the eyewitness testimony of the apostles (gospels and epistles) to ensure that the Lord’s words and deeds would not be lost, but rather preserved for future generations.

The early Church also showed great respect to physical items involved in the Lord’s life and death. These relics were understood to be silent witnesses to Christ and our salvation.  Because of their significance, the Church has always given these relics of the Lord a special place of honor and devotion above all other relics. Even the gospels take great effort to record in detail the many items involved in the passion of our Lord, many of which would later be venerated in the Church : the True Cross, the Crown of Thrones, the Sponge, the Pillar of Scourging, the Lance, the Nails, the Titulus, the Shroud (burial cloth), and the Veil that covered the face in the tomb. Although the Middle Ages had many forgeries and fake relics, the Church can testify to the authenticity of many Holy Relics associated with our Lord through science, archeology, and provenance (continuinty of possession). 

Passion relics artic ill

Christ as a Man of Sorrow surrounded by Arma Christi - Tools of the Passion. 

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The authenticity of many relics of Our Lord goes back to Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. Shortly after the conversion of the Emperor, and the legalization of Christianity, Helena was sent to Jerusalem in 325 AD to obtain relics of our Lord to be venerated in the capital and throughout the empire. The Christian leaders showed her the sites of the life and death of our Lord, and on those sites she built churches to ensure their veneration in years to come (even tearing down a pagan temple built on Calvary). While excavating Mount Calvary, they discovered a cistern where the three crosses and many of the instruments of the Passion were buried. After a miraculous healing among Helena’s entourage, the identity of the True Cross was confirmed. As was a common practice at the time, Helena divided the True Cross into three pieces – one portion to remain in Jerusalem, another to go to Rome, and another to be taken to Constantinople (the empire’s new capitol being constructed at that time). All relics of the True Cross can be traced back to one of those three portions, and their authenticity can be testified to by those who have been in possession of those relics since 325 AD. 

Emperor Constantine erected a new basilica in Rome, located near the Lateran Basilica (at that time the residence of the pope) to ensure the public veneration of the Relics of the Passion. Today pilgrims still come to venerate these relics at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. During Lent and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14 - the day the Cross was discovered by the Empress Helena) many cathedrals and churches throughout the world make their Relics of the Passion available for veneration.  

Many of the early Church fathers, such as St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Ambrose of Milan, spoke of the relics of the Lord’s Passion being venerated by the faithful in their dioceses, and how these holy witnesses to our salvation fostered a renewed sense of awe and wonder when praying before a crucifix and reading the scriptures account of the Passion.