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The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem ( , ) is a Roman Catholic basilica in Romemarker. It is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

According to tradition, the basilica was consecrated around 325 to house the Passion Relics brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena of Constantinople, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. At that time, the basilica floor was covered with soil from Jerusalemmarker, thus acquiring the title in Hierusalem - it is not dedicated to the Holy Cross which is in Jerusalem, but the church itself is "in Jerusalem," in the sense that a "piece" of Jerusalem was moved to Rome for its foundation. The current Cardinal Priest of the Titulus S. Crucis in Hierusalem is Miloslav Cardinal Vlk.


The church is built around a room in St. Helena's imperial palace, Palazzo Sessoriano, which she adapted to a chapel around the year 320. Some decennia later the chapel was turned into a true basilica, called Heleniana or Sessoriana. After falling into neglect, the church was restored by Pope Lucius II (1144-1145). In the occasion it assumed a Romanesque appearance, with three naves, a belfry and a porch.

The church was also modified in the 16th century, but it assumed its current Baroque appearance under Benedict XIV (1740-1758), who had been the titular of the basilica prior to his elevation to the papacy. New streets were also opened to connect the church to the two other Roman basilicas linked to Jesus' life, San Giovanni in Lateranomarker and Santa Maria Maggioremarker. The façade of Santa Croce, designed by Pietro Passalacqua and Domenico Gregorini, shares the typical late Roman Baroque taste with the former basilicas.

Passion relics

These famous relics, now of disputed authenticity, are housed in the Cappella delle Reliquie, built in 1930 by architect Florestano di Fausto. They include: a part of the Elogium or Titulus Crucis, i.e. the panel which was hung on Christ's Cross; two thorns of the crown; an incomplete nail; and three small wooden pieces of the True Cross itself. A much larger piece of the cross was taken from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to St. Peter's Basilicamarker on the instructions of Pope Urban VIII in 1629 - where it is kept near the colossal 1639 statue of St. Helena by Andrea Bolgi.

Other relics enshrined in the Chapel include:

  • A large fragment of the Good Thief's cross;
  • The bone of an index finger, said to be the finger of St. Thomas that he placed in the wounds of the Risen Christ
  • A single reliquary containing small pieces of: the Scourging Pillar (to which Christ was tied as he was beaten); the Holy Sepulchre (Christ's tomb); and the crib of Jesus
  • Some fragments of the grotto of Bethlehemmarker.

Chapel of St. Helena

The relics were once in the ancient St. Helena's Chapel, which is partly under ground level. Here the founder of the church had some earth from Calvary dispersed, whence the name in Hierusalem of the basilica. In the vault is a mosaic designed by Melozzo da Forlì (before 1485), depicting Jesus Blessing, Histories of the Cross and various saints. The altar has a huge statue of St. Helena, which was obtained from an ancient statue of Juno discovered at Ostiamarker. Mediaeval pilgrim guides noted that the chapel was considered so holy, that access to the chapel by women was forbidden.

Other artworks

The apse of church includes frescoes telling the Legends of the True Cross, attributed to Melozzo, to Antoniazzo Romano and Marco Palmezzano. The Museum of the Basilica houses a mosaic icon from the 14th century: according to the legend, Pope Gregory I had it made after a vision of Christ. Notable is also the tomb of Cardinal Francisco de los Ángeles Quiñones, by Jacopo Sansovino (1536).

Peter Paul Rubens, who had arrived in Rome by way of Mantuamarker in 1601, was commissioned by Archduke Albert of Austria to paint an altarpiece with three panels for the chapel St. Helena. Two of these paintings, St. Helena with the True Cross and The Mocking of Christ, are now in Grassemarker, Francemarker. The third, The Elevation of the Cross, is lost. Before his marriage, the archduke had been made a cardinal in this church.

Cardinal Priest of the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem since 1120


  • Paolo Coen, Le Sette Chiese, Newton Compton, Rome
  • Claudio Rendina, La grande Enciclopedia di Roma, Netwon Compton, Rome

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