Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is a Roman Catholic parish church.
The Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Holy Cross in Jerusalem) is a very interesting basilica just a short walk from San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome.
It is one of the seven pilgrimage churches in the Eternal City . Too often overlooked by visitors (though pilgrims wouldn't miss it), Santa Croce is well worth a visit for its extraordinary collection of relics from the Holy Land, its full-sized replica of the Shroud of Turin, the shrine of a young girl who is being considered for sainthood, and its connections with Constantine and St. Helen.
The Basilica of Santa Croce is located on a Roman imperial estate and is built into part of the Sessorian Palace. Several sources, including an inscription in the church, verify that the Sessorian Palace was owned by the empress St. Helen (c.255-330), Constantine's mother.
From the end of the 4th century it was said that St. Helen had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, during which she discovered the True Cross on which Christ was crucified and many other relics. It was also said that she wished to set up a shrine in Rome for pilgrims who could not travel to Jerusalem.
Historical evidence is scarce on this, as no early writers record a connection between Helen and the True Cross . Fragments of the cross, however, were circulating in the West by 348 AD. The earliest historical record of the church, dated to 501 AD, refers to it as "Hierusalem basilica Sessoriani palatii." Architecturally, it is notable that the 4th-century Chapel of St. Helen is quite similar in design to a martyrium that was erected by Constantine in Jerusalem to house a fragment of the True Cross .
The history of the Basilica of Santa Croce was first explicitly recorded in a 6th-century passage in the Liber Pontificalis, which states that Emperor Constantine (306-37) founded "a basilica in the Sessorian Palace" and that it received many donations. The church was not referred to as "Holy Cross" until the Middle Ages.
However, the church's connection with St. Helena remains firm. The Chapel of St. Helena, which is held to be the empress's private chapel in the Sessorian Palace, was decorated with mosaics by Emperor Valentinian III (425-455), his mother Galla Placidia and his sister Honoria.
Within a few centuries, the area around the chapel had become isolated from the rest of the city. It was maintained by the clergy of the Lateran but by the 8th century had fallen into quite a poor state. Restorations were made under Pope Gregory II (715-31) and again in 1145, as part of an ongoing papal effort to revive the Lateran area.
In the 12th century, the chapel was rebuilt as a Romanesque basilica (the Cosmatesque pavement and bell tower date from this period), which was referred to as Sanctae Crucis (the Latin equivalent of the Italian Santa Croce) - indicating a relic of the True Cross was enshrined there.
In 1561, Lombard Cistercian monks from the congregation of San Bernardo replaced the Carthusians as caretakers of Santa Croce. Cistericans still serve the church today. Between 1741 and 1744, Pope Benedict XIV had the Church of the Holy Cross rebuilt in the opulent Baroque style. The architects were Domenico Gregorini and Pietro Passalacqua. The long-planned roads linking Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Croce in Gerusalemme were finally completed at this time.
In 1930, the relics enshrined in the Chapel of St. Helen were moved to a new chapel upstairs, the Chapel of the Holy Relics. The chapel is reached by a wide stairwell flanked by the Stations of the Cross , also dating from 1930. The stairway and its decoration has a definite Mussolini-era feel to it.