Roodmas 1 -- more commonly known simply
as "Holy Cross Day" -- was first begun to commemorate the Dedication of the
Basilica of the Resurrection, built by St. Helena (Constantine the Great's
mother), in Jerusalem in A.D. 355 -- but the true Cross was found shortly
thereafter, also by St. Helena, so the two events were joined.
The story of the finding of the True Cross, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
In the year 326
the mother of Constantine, Helena, then about 80 years old, having journeyed
to Jerusalem, undertook to rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped
upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its
site. Some revelations which she had received gave her confidence that she
would discover the Saviour's Tomb and His Cross. The work was carried on
diligently, with the co-operation of St. Macarius, bishop of the city.
The Jews had hidden the Cross in a ditch or well, and covered it over with
stones, so that the faithful might not come and venerate it. Only a chosen
few among the Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one
of them, named Judas, touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the
excavators, for which act he was highly praised by St. Helena. Judas afterwards
became a Christian saint, and is honoured under the name of Cyriacus.
During the excavation three crosses were found, but because the titulus was
detached from the Cross of Christ, there was no means of identifying it.
Following an inspiration from on high, Macarius caused the three crosses
to be carried, one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who
was at the point of death. The touch of the other two was of no avail; but
on touching that upon which Christ had died the woman got suddenly well again.
From a letter of
St. Paulinus to Severus inserted in the Breviary of Paris it would appear
that St. Helena herself had sought by means of a miracle to discover which
was the True Cross and that she caused a man already dead and buried to be
carried to the spot, whereupon, by contact with the third cross, he came
to life. From yet another tradition, related by St. Ambrose, it would seem
that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the Cross.
After the happy discovery, St. Helena and Constantine erected a magnificent
basilica over the Holy Sepulchre, and that is the reason why the church bore
the name of St. Constantinus. The precise spot of the finding was covered
by the atrium of the basilica, and there the Cross was set up in an oratory,
as appears in the restoration executed by de Vogüé. When this
noble basilica had been destroyed by the infidels, Arculfus, in the seventh
century, enumerated four buildings upon the Holy Places around Golgotha,
and one of them was the "Church of the Invention" or "of the Finding". This
church was attributed by him and by topographers of later times to Constantine.
The Frankish monks of Mount Olivet, writing to Leo III, style it St.
Constantinus. Perhaps the oratory built by Constantine suffered less at the
hands of the Persians than the other buildings, and so could still retain
the name and style of Martyrium Constantinianum. (See De Rossi, Bull. d'
arch. crist., 1865, 88.)
A portion of the True Cross remained at Jerusalem enclosed in a silver reliquary;
the remainder, with the nails, must have been sent to Constantine, and it
must have been this second portion that he caused to be enclosed in the statue
of himself which was set on a porphyry column in the Forum at Constantinople;
Socrates, the historian, relates that this statue was to make the city
impregnable. One of the nails was fastened to the emperor's helmet, and one
to his horse's bridle, bringing to pass, according to many of the Fathers,
what had been written by Zacharias the Prophet: "In that day that which is
upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord" (Zechariah 14:20).
Another of the nails was used later in the Iron Crown of Lombardy preserved
in the treasury of the cathedral of Monza.
of the relics of the True Cross show it to be made of some species of pine.
The titulus crucis -- the wood on which the inscription "Jesus of Nazareth,
King of the Jews" was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (Matthew 27:37,
Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38 and John 19:19) -- is made of an olive wood. The titulus
has been scientifically dated to the 1st c. and the script is still legible
(interestingly, the Latin and Greek are in reverse script), though the Hebrew
is missing due to the entire thing being halved, the second half having been
lost in the 6th century. It is from the Latin inscription -- "Iesus Nazarenus
Rex Iudeorum" that we get the abbreviation "I.N.R.I." that is found on many
The titulus crucis
and relics of the True Cross can be seen in Rome's Basilica di Santa Croce
1 "Rood" is the Middle English word for "Cross."
People would once swear "by the rood," as Shakespeare's Hamlet attests with
his line to Queen Gertrude, from Scene III Act IV: "No, by the rood, not
so: You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife; And--would it were
not so!--you are my mother."
From the old Gallican calendar there came another Feast known as "Roodmas."
May 3 was a day that celebrated the finding of the True Cross, and this Feast
made its way into the Roman calendar when the two were combined together.
It was celebrated liturgically pre-1962, and would, then, be celebrated by
priests who use pre-1962 Missals. The May feast focused on the finding of
the True Cross, while the September feast focused on the the dedication of
the Basilica and on the rescuing of the Cross from Persians in 629. In the
1962 Missal, all of these are combined.