p. 258 Book II.
Chapter I.—The Discovery of the Life-Bringing Cross and of the Holy Nails.
When the business at Nicæa had been transacted as above related, the priests returned home. The emperor rejoiced exceedingly at the restoration of unity of opinion in the Catholic Church, and desirous of expressing in behalf of himself, his children, and the empire, the gratitude towards God which the unanimity of the bishops inspired, he directed that a house of prayer should be erected to God at Jerusalem 1139 near the place called Calvary. At the same time his mother Helena repaired to the city for the purpose of offering up prayer, and of visiting the sacred places. Her zeal for Christianity made her anxious to find the wood which had formed the adorable cross. But it was no easy matter to discover either this relic or the Lords sepulchre; for the Pagans, who in former times had persecuted the Church, 1140 and who, at the first promulgation of Christianity, had had recourse to every artifice to exterminate it, had concealed that spot under much heaped up earth, and elevated what before was quite depressed, as it looks now, and the more effectually to conceal them, had enclosed the entire place of the resurrection and Mount Calvary within a wall, and had, moreover, ornamented the whole locality, and paved it with stone. They also erected a temple to Aphrodite, and set up a little image, so that those who repaired thither to worship Christ would appear to bow the knee to Aphrodite, and that thus the true cause of offering worship in that place would, in course of time, be forgotten; and that as Christians would not dare fearlessly to frequent the place or to point it out to others, the temple and statue would come to be regarded as exclusively appertaining to the Pagans. At length, however, the place was discovered, and the fraud about it so zealously maintained was detected; some say that the facts were first disclosed by a Hebrew who dwelt in the East, and who derived his information from some documents which had come to him by paternal inheritance; but it seems more accordant with truth to suppose that God revealed the fact by means of signs and dreams; for I do not think that human information is requisite when God thinks it best to make manifest the same. When by command of the emperor the place was excavated deeply, the cave whence our Lord arose from the dead was discovered; and at no great distance, three crosses were found and another separate piece of wood, on which were inscribed in white letters in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin, the following words: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” These words, as the sacred book of the gospels relates, were placed by command of Pilate, governor of Judæa, over the head of Christ. There yet, however, remained a difficulty in distinguishing the Divine cross from the others; for the inscription had been wrenched from it and thrown aside, and the cross itself had been cast aside with the others, without any distinction, when the bodies of the crucified were taken down. For according to history, the soldiers found Jesus dead upon the cross, and they took him down, and gave him up to be buried; while, in order to accelerate the death of the two thieves, who were crucified on either hand, they broke their legs, and then took down the crosses, and flung them out of the way. It was no concern of theirs to deposit the crosses in their first order; for it was growing late, and as the men were dead, they did not think it worth while to remain to attend to the crosses. A more Divine information than could be furnished by man was therefore necessary in order to distinguish the Divine cross from the others, and this revelation was given in the following manner: There was a certain lady of rank in Jerusalem who was afflicted with a most grievous and incurable disease; Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, accompanied by the mother of the emperor and her attendants, repaired to her bedside. After engaging in prayer, Macarius signified by signs to the spectators that the Divine cross would be the one which, on being brought in contact with the invalid, should remove the disease. He approached her in turn with each of the crosses; p. 259 but when two of the crosses were laid on her, it seemed but folly and mockery to her for she was at the gates of death. When, however, the third cross was in like manner brought to her, she suddenly opened her eyes, regained her strength, and immediately sprang from her bed, well. It is said that a dead person was, in the same way, restored to life. The venerated wood having been thus identified, the greater portion of it was deposited in a silver case, in which it is still preserved in Jerusalem: but the empress sent part of it to her son Constantine, together with the nails by which the body of Christ had been fastened. Of these, it is related, the emperor had a head-piece and bit made for his horse, according to the prophecy of Zechariah, who referred to this period when he said, “that which shall be upon the bit of the horse shall be holy to the Lord Almighty.” 1141 These things, indeed, were formerly known to the sacred prophets, and predicted by them, and at length, when it seemed to God that they should be manifested, were confirmed by wonderful works. Nor does this appear so marvelous when it is remembered that, even among the Pagans, it was confessed that the Sibyl had predicted that thus it should be,—
“Oh most blessed tree, on which our Lord was hung.” 1142
Our most zealous adversaries cannot deny the truth of this fact, and it is hence evident that a pre-manifestation was made of the wood of the cross, and of the adoration (σέβας) it received.
The above incidents we have related precisely as they were delivered to us by men of great accuracy, by whom the information was derived by succession from father to son; and others have recorded the same events in writing for the benefit of posterity.
Eus. V. C. iii. 25–40; Soc. i. 9, Letter to Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem.258:1140
Ruf H. E. i. 7, 8; Soc. H. E. I. 17; Sulp. Sev. H. S. ii. 33, 34, another story of the identification. Soz. furnishes an additional story about the discovery, which he, however, confutes.259:1141
Zech. xiv. 20. (LXX).259:1142
Sib. Or. vi. 26.