The Santa Croce in Gerusalemme Basilica is one of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome. Pilgrim churches are allowed to give out indulgences. An indulgence is the remission, under certain conditions, of punishment due for sins that have already been forgiven. Statues of saints adorn the facade of the basilica, but the biggest attraction is formed by the relics of the Cross, brought from Jerusalem by Saint Helena.
Santa Croce in Gerusalemme Basilica Rome
Address, Opening Hours and Admission
The address of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is Piazza di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, 12 – 00185 Rome (tel. +39 0670613053). Opening times (2021): From 07.00 till 12.45 and from 15.30 till 19.30. Admission: Free. Name in English: Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
History and Description
The church was built around a chapel, which had been constructed around the year 320 by Saint Helena of Constantinople in her imperial palace, the Palazzo Sessoriano. Saint Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine I and ordered construction of the church so she could house the passion relics she had brought back from Jerusalem there.
Around the middle of the 12th century, after the church had fallen into neglect, Pope Lucius II ordered a restoration. The new construction showed Romanesque influences, with 3 naves, a bell-tower and one gate.
Benedict XIV commissioned not only a new restoration but also the construction of two new roads that were to connect the church to two other basilicas connected with the life of Jesus, Saint Mary Major and Saint John Lateran.
A new facade was designed, by Pietro Passalaqua and Domenico Gregorini.
In 1930 the architect Florestano di Fausto built the Cappella delle Reliquie, where Saint Helena‘s relics are kept. These consist of two thorns of Jesus’s crown, three splinters of the cross ( a bigger piece was moved to Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1629), a fragment of a nail and a part of the Elogium (aka Titulus Crucis), although the University of Arizona has investigated the piece and claims this stems from the 10th century. There are also a big fragment of the cross of the Good Thief, a small bone of what is thought to be the index finger Saint Thomas stuck into Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection, some fragments of the grotto of Jerusalem and a reliquarium with splinters of the wooden pillar Jesus was tied to while he was being hit, of his tomb and his cradle.
The relics used to be placed in the partly underground Chapel of Saint Helena, where Helena had also thrown some earth brought from Golgotha on the ground.
During the Middle Ages the Chapel of Saint Helena considered too holy for women, who were thus not allowed entrance.
Works of art
- The Chapel of Saint Helena contains a mosaic by Melozzo da Forli.
- The altar in this chapel is embellished with a statue of Saint Elena, which is really a statue of Juno and was found in Ostia Antica.
- The cosmatesque floor stems from the 12th century.
- Jacopo Sansovino made the tomb of Cardinal Francisco de los Angeles Quinones.
- In the museum of the basilica there is a mosaic icon, commissioned by Pope Gregory I after he had seen a vision of Jesus.