Relics | True Cross | How many pieces of the True Cross have been saved as Relics?
According to Christian tradition, the True Cross consists of the remnants of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Careful examination reveals that the pieces of this story don’t add up.
During the 16th-century Reformation that broke Christianity into Protestant and Catholic factions, the Catholic Church was much criticized for its commercialization of holy relics. According to Forgery in Christianity, even the supposed baby teeth and the umbilical cord of the Infant Jesus were put up for sale. Perhaps the most revered object that pilgrims were charged money to see were the reputed remains of the True Cross.
Critics charged that chapels and abbies had enough fragments of the True Cross to constitute many crosses, undermining the church’s claim that it possessed the real thing. In Treatise on Relics, Protestant Theologian John Calvin States, “ if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship load. Yet the gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.”
But it appears Calvin may have been wrong. A 19th-century tally of all the known fragments of the True Cross added up to far less wood than it would take to make a single cross. In 1870, French architect Rohault de Fleury, a devout Catholic, estimated the volume of wood in a complete cross, as catalogued in his book Les Instruments de la Passion. A large cross of the type the Romans used for executions would measure about four meters high by two meters across, or 178 million cubic millimeters. Fleury next added up the volume of the alleged pieces of the True Cross in Europe’s churches, cathedrals, and monasteries, including the pieces that had been lost to time. Fleury arrived at a total of 4 million cubic millimeters. That is only about two percent of the amount of a complete cross.
We can’t know for certain whether the fragments that the architect studied were part of the cross on which Jesus Christ died. However, they do make up far less than a complete cross.
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