Today's Gospel in Art - The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

  • Patrick van der Vorst

The Finding and Trial of the Three Crosses by Agnolo Gaddi 1385-87 © Chancel Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence

The Finding and Trial of the Three Crosses by Agnolo Gaddi 1385-87 © Chancel Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence

Gospel of 14th September 2020 - John 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
'No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.'

Reflection on the Fresco Painting

Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: the cross as the actual instrument of our salvation. This instrument of torture, designed to degrade the worst of criminals in Roman times, became the life-giving tree and symbol for our faith!

Today also recalls the historical event of Saint Helena (mother of Emperor Constantine), finding the True Cross. According to tradition, first mentioned by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in 348, Saint Helena, nearing the end of her life, decided under divine inspiration to travel to Jerusalem in 326 to excavate the Holy Sepulchre and attempt to locate the True Cross. She found three crosses on the spot. According to one tradition, the inscription Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) remained attached to the True Cross. Another tradition (which is illustrated in our fresco painting of today) says that the True Cross was identified when a dead youth who was being carried past on a stretcher was brought to life again after the three crosses, one after the other, were laid over him. The third cross, the true cross, was the one which raised him from the dead.

In celebration of the discovery of the Holy Cross, Constantine ordered the construction of two churches at the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. Those churches were dedicated on September 13 and 14, anno 335, and shortly thereafter the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross began to be celebrated on the latter date. The feast slowly spread from Jerusalem to other churches, until, by the year 720, the celebration was universal.

The entrance antiphon for today's feast day which the priest will read out in today's Mass: "We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection: through him we are saved and made free."


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Tags: Christian Art, Patrick van der Vorst, Cross, Agnolo Gaddi

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