March 10: St Macarius (c. A.D. 335)
Preserved in the pages of the historian Eusebius is the letter which Constantine wrote to Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, entrusting him with the construction of a church on the spot where the Empress Helen had discovered the site of Christ's sepulchre, and giving him practically a free hand in its design and in the choice of workmen and materials. He lived to complete the basilica he had undertaken. We know from the testimony of St Athanasius that Macarius was a sincere and upright man, filled with the true apostolic spirit. He succeeded Bishop Hermon in 314 at the time when the Arian heresy was beginning seriously to menace the Church, and we know from the testimony of St Athanasius that he proved himself a valiant champion of the true faith. At the Council of Nicaca his name appears first of the Palestinian bishops in the list of the signatories.
According to the popular legend, Macarius was not only present at the finding of Christ's cross, but was also actually the means of identifying it. When the necessary excavations had been made three crosses were discovered, and it was at first doubtful which of the three was that on which our Lord had suffered. If we may trust the account which Rufinus gives in his Ecclesiastical History: "It happened that in the city there was a woman lying ill, nigh unto death. Macarius was bishop of that church at the time. When he saw the queen and the rest standing by, he said, "Bring hither all the crosses that have been found, and God will show which it was that bore the Lord". Then having entered with the queen and the others into the house of the woman who was ill, he knelt down and prayed thus "O God, who through thine only-begotten Son hast inspired the heart of thine handmaid to seek the holy wood upon which our salvation depends, show plainly which cross was identified with the glory of the Lord and which served for the punishment of slaves. Grant that as soon as the health-giving wood touches this woman who is lying half-dead, she may be recalled to life from the gates of death." When he had spoken these words, he touched her with one of the crosses -- and thing happened. Then he applied the second -- equally without effect. As soon, however, as he touched her with the third cross, she started up open-eyed and, with her strength fully restored, began to glorify God and to run about the house with greater agility than before her illness. The queen, having obtained her desire sough such a clear indication, erected with royal pomp a marvellous temple on the spot where she had found the cross."
Constantine's great basilica was consecrated on September 13, 335, the year which is generally considered to have been that of the death of its supervisor and builder Macarius.
Herbert Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater, editors, Butler's Lives of the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1956).
May 3: The Finding of the Holy Cross (c. A.D. 326)
The feast of the Inventio, that is to say the discovery, of the Holy Cross, which is kept on May 3 with the rite of a double of the second class, would seem to take precedence of the September feast, the "Exaltation", which is only observed as a greater double. There is, however, a good deal of evidence which suggests that the September feast is the more primitive celebration, and that a certain confusion has arisen between the two incidents in the history of the Holy Cross which these festivals purport to commemorate. Strictly speaking, neither of them seems at first to have been directly connected with the discovery of the cross. The September feast took its rise from the solemn dedication in A.D. 335 of the churches which Constantine, encouraged by his mother, St Helen, had caused to be built on the site of the Holy Sepulchre. We cannot be sure that the dedication was carried out precisely on September 14. The month, however, was September, and seeing that in the time of the pilgrim Etheria, fifty years later, the annual commemoration of this inaugurating ceremony lasted for a week, there is clearly no reason to be particular to a day or two. In any case, Etheria herself tells us: "The dedication of these holy churches is therefore celebrated with the highest honour, and also because the cross of our Lord was found on this same day. And it was so ordained that, when the holy churches above mentioned were consecrated, that should also be the day when the cross of our Lord had been found, in order that the whole celebration should be made together, with all rejoicing, on the self-same day." From this it would follow that the discovery of the cross was honoured at Jerusalem in September, and the pilgrim Theodosius, about A.D. 530, speaking expressly of the inventio crucis, bears witness to the same fact.
But at present we commemorate in September an entirely different event, to wit, the recovery in 629 by the Emperor Heraclius of the relics of the cross which some years before had been carried off from Jerusalem by Chosroes II, King of Persia. The Roman Martyrology and the lessons of the Breviary are explicit on the point. There is, however, reason to think that under the style "Exaltation of the Cross" we have reference to the physical act of the lifting of the sacred relic when it was exhibited for the veneration of the people, and it is also probable that this designation was used in connection with the feast before the time of Heraclius.
As for the actual finding, with which we are here concerned, there is a distressing absence of early information. The Pilgram of Bordeaux, in 333, says nothing of the cross. Eusebius, the historian, from whom, as a contemporary, we should have expected to learn much, makes no reference to the discovery, though he seems to know about the three separate places of worship within the Holy Sepulchre precincts. Thus, in stating that Constantine "adorned a shrine sacred to the salutary emblem", he may well be supposed to refer to that chapel, "Golgotha", in which as Etheria tells us, the relics of the cross were preserved. St Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, in his catechetical lectures which were delivered, about the vear 346, on the very site where our Saviour was crucified, refers more than once to the wood of the cross. "It has been distributed", he declares, "fragment by fragment, from this spot and has already nearly filled the world." Furthermore, in his letter to Constantius [II], he expressly states that "the saving wood of the cross was found at Jerusalem in the time of Constantine". In all this there is no mention of St Helen, who died in 330. The first, perhaps, to ascribe the discovery to her active interventions is St Ambrose, in his sermon De Obitu Theodosii, preached in 395; but about that date or a little later we find many others, John Chrysostom, Rufinus, Paulinus of Nola, and Cassiodorus, together with the church historians Socrates, Sozoinen and Theodoret -- but notably not St Jerome, who lived on the spot -- all repeating similar stories of the recovery of the cross in which St Helen plays a principal part. Unfortunately, the details of these accounts are by no means always in agreement. St Ambrose and St John Chrysostom inform us that in the cxcavations which were undertaken at the instance of St Helen, three crosses were discovered. They add that to the one in the middle the "title" was still attached, and that in this way our Saviour's cross was clearly identified. On the other hand, Rufinus, who is followed in this by Socrates, reports that in accordance with a special inspiration St Helen directed that excavations should be made in a certain place, that three crosses were found and an inscription, but there was no way of deciding to which of the three the inscription belonged. The bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, thereupon had a dying woman brought to the spot. She was made to touch the three crosses, and at the contact of the third she was healed, so that it was made plain to all that this was the cross of our Saviour. There are other divergences, at about the same date, regarding the miracle of healing by which the true cross was identified, the finding and disposal of the nails, etc. On the whole, it seems probable that the statements made more than sixty years after the event by writers bent mainly on edification were a good deal influenced by certain apocryphal documents which must already have been in circulation.
The most notable of these is the tractate De inventione crucis dominicae which is mentioned (c. 550) in the pseudo-Gelasian decree De recipiendis et non recipiendis libris as a writing to be regarded with mistrust. There can be no doubt that this little tractate was widely read. The compiler of the first redaction of the Liber Pontificalis (c. A.D. 532) must have had it in his hands, and he quotes from it in the account he gives of Pope Eusebius. It must also have been known to those who blunderingly revised the Hieronymianum at Auxerre early in the seventh century. Neglecting the anachronisms in which the narrative abounds, the story in brief runs thus. The Emperor Constantine, in conflict with hordes of barbarians on the Danube, was in grave danger of defeat. There appeared to him, however, a vision of a brilliant cross in the sky, with the legend "In this sign thou shalt conquer". He was thereupon victorious, was instructed and baptized by Pope Eusebius in Rome, and out of gratitude despatched his mother, St Helen, to Jerusalem, to search for the relics of the holy cross. All the inhabitants professed ignorance of its whereabouts, but at last, by dint of threats she prevailed upon a learned Jew named Judas to reveal what he knew. They dug twenty fathoms deep and discovered three crosses. The identity of the true cross is determined by its raising a dead man to life. Judas is thereupon converted, and, as the bishop of Jerusalem happened just then to die, St Helen selects this new convert, who is henceforth called Cyriacus, or Quiriacus, to govern that see in his place. Pope Eusebius is summoned from Rome to Jerusalem to consecrate him bishop, and shortly afterwards, through the miraculous appearance of a brilliant light, the hiding-place of the holy nails is also revealed. St Helen, having made generous donations to the holy places and the poor of Jerusalem, happened to die not long afterwards, charging all faithful Christians as her last behest to hold festival every year on May 3 (quinto nonas Maii), the day on which the cross was found. Before the year 450, Sozomen (bk. ii, ch. i) seems to have been acquainted with this story of the Jew who revealed the hiding-place of the cross. He does not denounce it as a fabrication, but quietly passes it by as less probable.
Another apocryphal story which bears, though less directly, on the finding of the cross, is introduced, somewhat as a digression, into the document known as The Doctrine of Addai, of Syrian origin. What we are told here is that Protonike, the wife of the Emperor Claudius Caesar, less than ten years after our Lord's ascension, went to the Holy Land, compelled the Jews to reveal where the crosses were hidden, and distinguished that of our Saviour by a miracle wrought upon her own daughter. It is contended that this legend has suggested the story of St Helen and the discovery of the cross in the time of Constantine. Mgr Duchesne believed that the Doctrine of Addai was earlier in date than the De inventions crucis dominicae, but there are strong arguments for the contrary opinion.
In view of all this very unsatisfactory evidence, the most probable suggestion seems to be that the holy cross with the title was found during the excavations rendered necessary by the construction of Constantine's basilica on Mount Calvary. Such a discovery, which may well have involved some period of doubt and inquiry while the authenticity of the find was being discussed, is likely to have given rise to multifarious conjectures and rumours which before long took written shape in the De inventions tractate. It is probable that St Helen's share in the transaction actually amounted to no more than what we should gather from Etheria's statement when she speaks of "the building which Constantine, under his mother's auspices (sub praesentia matris suae) embellished with gold and mosaics and precious marbles". The credit of a victory is often given to a sovereign, though it is his generals and troops who have done all the fighting. What is certain in the whole matter is that from the middle of the fourth century reputed relics of the true cross spread through the world. This we know not only from St Cyril's reiterated statement, but also from dated inscriptions in Africa and elsewhere. Still more convincing is the evidence that before the end of the same century the stem of the cross and the title were both venerated in Jerusalem with intense devotion. Etheria's account of the ceremony is the description of an eye-witness about the year 385; but only a dozen years or so later we have in the Life of St Porphyrius of Gaza another testimony to the veneration with which the relic was regarded by its custodians. And again, after nearly two centuries, the pilgrim, commonly, if incorrectly, known as Antoninus of Piacenza, tells us how "we adored (adoravimus) and kissed" the wood of the cross and handled its title.
Herbert Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater, editors, Butler's Lives of the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1956).