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Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Feast of Our Lord

The Emperor Constantine, at the urgency of his mother Helena, erected great churches at Mount Calvary over the holy places of the crucifixion and the burial of our Lord. And what remaineth of these edifices, after several destructions and re-buildings, is now to be found incorporate in the latter-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But the shrines originally built by Constantine and Helena were dedicated in September of the year 335. And yearly thereafter the relicks of the true Cross, which had been discovered during the excavations made for their foundations, were lifted up for veneration by the faithful during the dedication festival until the year 614. At that time King Chosroës of Persia, after a cruel invasion of Egypt and the Holy Land, took Jerusalem, wherein were then several thousands of Christians. Many of these he massacred, and the rest of them, with their Patriarch Zachary, he carried into slavery. In the sack of the Holy City he destroyed more than 300 religious buildings, among which were the holy places at Mount Calvary. The Cross of our Lord, since the time of its enshrinement at the latter place by Saint Helena, had been much reduced by constant pious distributions, but what remained thereof, in its jewelled reliquary, was also carried into Persia. Now Heraclius, who became Emperor shortly after this desecration, was so vexed by divers wars and calamities that he twice sought peace of Chosroës. But the latter, drunken with conquest, would not allow it to him even on unfair terms; some say, not unless he denied the Crucified. Wherefore Heraclius, being set in this uttermost strait, sought help from God, and began a holy war, as it were, under the standard of the Cross.

In 627, after a long contest, Heraclius vanquished the might of the Persian host. Broken by these defeats, Chosroës fled, and then proclaimed his son Medarses partner in his kingdom. But his eldest son Siroës took insult at this, and formed a plot to murder his father and brother, which plot he brought to effect soon after they had come home. Later he got the kingdom from Heraclius upon certain terms, whereof the first was that he should give back the Cross of the Lord Christ, and set the captives free. The Cross therefore was received back, after having been fourteen years in the hands of the Persians. So it was that as soon as he could, Heraclius came to Jerusalem and bore it with solemn pomp unto the Mount whereunto the Savior had borne it. But it is said that the Emperor was stayed perforce at the gateway which leadeth unto Mount Calvary, and that the harder he strove to go forward, the harder he seemed to be held back, whereat all who stood by were sore amazed. Whereupon Zachary said that the Cross should not be carried by one attired as a conqueror, for thereby too little was shewn of the poverty and lowliness of Christ Jesus. Then Heraclius cast away his princely raiment and put off his shoes from his feet, and in the garb of a poor man easily finished his journey to the place of Calvary. Thus was the holy Cross restored to its former place by the grace of the God of victory. And thenceforth, in memory thereof, this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross hath been wont to be yearly celebrated in memory of all the graces which Christian folk have had from the Cross of our redemption.

On this same day, in 1241, Saint King Louis of France brought in solemn procession to Paris, together with other instruments of the Passion, a portion of the Lord's Cross which had been retained in Syria as a pledge of the Knights Templar, and which he had received from the Emperor Baldwin, with other considerable portions, from which some fragments had been wont to be given by the Emperors to the Church and to their friends. And that holy king gave a bright example of Christian piety, when, his royal robes cast off, and his feet unshod, he bore into the City of Paris the instrument whereby the ransom of the world was paid. Lastly, he built in the royal palace a magnificent church, called the Holy Chapel, wherein to preserve that most blessed Sign of our redemption.


O GOD, who dost gladden us upon this day by the festival of the Exaltation of the holy Cross: grant that we who have acknowledged the mystery of redemption here on earth, may rejoice in the everlasting fruits thereof in heaven. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Anglican Breviary, Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation, Inc., New York, 1955, pages 1427-1429, 1431

Additional Information:

For additional readings, or to learn more about the Anglican Breviary, visit The Anglican Breviary Website.

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