Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
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This Holy week, the Cathedral welcomes you to a special exhibition of the Relics of the Passion. The Cathedral will be featuring what some believe were the Crown of thorns, a splinter from the cross used in Jesus Christ's crucifixion, the Holy nails and Table of the supper. This Holy week exhibit will end permanently at dusk on Holy Saturday.

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On the Veneration of the Relics of the Passion and
Cross of Christ

The origin of the Christian practice of venerating relics lies in the veneration of the martyrs, who witnessed to Christ by shedding their blood for love of him. In early Christian centuries churches were built near their bodies. Portions of the martyr’s body, often the bones, were placed under – or in – the altar as sign of Christian hope and of the communion between the living and the dead.

There is no relic of Christ’s own body. At the core of Christian faith is the affirmation that he was raised from the dead and lives at the right hand of the Father. The instruments of the Passion which touched his body became objects of veneration following Saint Helena’s search for the True Cross.

The veneration of the True Cross finds its origin in the legend of Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, who is said have unearthed three crosses at Golgotha, and is said to have verified though a series of miracles which was the True Cross of Christ. Pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, and later from Rome, took relics with them and disseminated them in different parts of the world.

The roots of devotion to the Cross, to the instruments of the Passion, and to other objects associated with the life of Christ are long, deep and strong in the piety of the Christian people, beginning with pilgrims in Jerusalem and continuing to our own day.

So strong has the practice of the veneration of the Cross been in Christian history that it has found its way into the Liturgy of Good Friday, where all the faithful are invited to demonstrate their reverence for the Cross of the One whose wounds have healed us. The veneration of the Cross on Good Friday is an expression of our faith and hope in Christ whose Paschal Mystery we celebrate and share in most fully in the Easter celebration of the Resurrection.

The veneration of holy places and objects is meant to bring us into a deeper share in Christ’s mysteries: his life, mission, suffering, death and Resurrection. It is in the Liturgy of the Church that we see and celebrate the unity of the one Paschal Mystery of Christ: self-giving love unto death lives forever; the power of love prevails over all evil; suffering and sorrow give way to hope and joy never ending.

Saint Leo the Great reminds us: The mystery of the life of Christ has passed over into the sacramental life of the Church. Through the veneration of these relics – from the collection of the Apostolate for Holy Relics – all the faithful have the opportunity to deepen their faith in Christ and to share in his mysteries celebrated in their fullness during the Sacred Triduum. Then, on Easter morn, voices will ring out with vigor and joy, echoing the earliest proclamation of the Christian faith: The Crucified One lives! Christ is risen – truly risen from the dead!

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Stories and Legends of Relics of the Passion and Cross

I. A piece of the True Cross discovered by Saint Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother, and brought back to Rome in Fourth Century. To house the single most significant relic in Christianity, St. Helen built the Basilica of Santa Croce in Rome, where a large piece of the cross is kept to this day. Skeptics have said that if all the relics of the True Cross where put together there would be enough wood for two or three crosses. However, in 1870 a Frenchman, Rohault de Fleury, catalogued all the relics of the True Cross including relics that were said to have existed but were lost. He measured the existing relics and estimated the volume of the missing ones. Then he added up the figures and discovered that the fragments, if glued together, would not have made up more than one-third of a cross.

II. The Crown of Thorns was documented as being in Jerusalem in 409 AD. It was transferred to Constantinople in 1063, although it seems that the thorns were removed and presented to various rulers in Europe at an earlier date. In 1238 Baldwin II, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, anxious to obtain support for his tottering empire offered the crown of thorns to Louis IX, King of France, who built the Sainte-Chapelle to house it. During the French Revolution, the crown was kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale until 1806 when the thornless remains were deposited in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

III. The Holy Nails were discovered by Constantine’s mother the Empress Helena about 300 years after the Crucifixion. According to legend, one nail was tossed into the Adriatic to calm a storm. The other two were used by the Empress to protect her son. One was placed in his crown and another formed into a bridle for his horse. Filings were taken from the true nails and imbedded in copies to make relics of a lower class. Some of these are presented as true nails rather than copies but it is safe to say that the one kept at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in Rome is among those most likely to be one of the True Nails used in the Crucifixion.

IV. A relic is from the Table of the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place. On the night before he died: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’”
(Matthew 26: 26-28).

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The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
555 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, California 90012

For more information call (213) 680-5200