The Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross (September 14) originated in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus died and rose again. An immense throng of Christians gathered on September 13, 335 A.D. to dedicate a church built by the Emperor Constantine over the empty tomb of Jesus and the place where he was crucified– Golgotha.
The resplendent church, one of the world’s largest, was called the Anastasis (Resurrection), or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. From then on, Christian pilgrims from all over the world flocked there to see where Jesus was buried and where he died.
Until the Moslem conquest in the 7th century, vast crowds of bishops, priests, monks, men and women from all over the Roman empire continued to come annually to celebrate the feast, which went on for 8 days. It was Holy Week and Easter in September. One visitor, Egeria, a widely-traveled 4th century nun, said the celebration recalled the Church’s dedication, but also the day when “the Cross of the Lord was found here.”
Many Christian denominations continue to celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross on September 14th.
Visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City today see a smaller, shabby successor to Constantine’s great church, which was largely destroyed in 1009 AD by the insane Moslem caliph al-Hakim and was only half rebuilt in the 11th century by the Crusaders. Today the church bears the scars of sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires, and natural disasters.
The scars of a divided Christendom also appear in the church, where various Christian groups, upholding age-old rights, warily guard their own turf. Visitors have to wonder: Does this place proclaim the great mystery that unfolded here?
Like our reaction to the sacraments, we ask Is This All There Is? It takes time to discover the Cross and its triumph.