The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Italian: Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme) is a Roman Catholic parish church and minor basilica in Rome, Italy. It is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.
According to tradition, the basilica was consecrated around 325 to house the Passion Relics brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena of Constantinople, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. At that time, the basilica floor was covered with soil from Jerusalem, thus acquiring the title in Hierusalem – it is not dedicated to the Holy Cross which is in Jerusalem, but the church itself is “in Jerusalem” in the sense that a “piece” of Jerusalem was moved to Rome for its foundation. The current Cardinal Priest of the Titulus S. Crucis in Hierusalem is Miloslav Vlk.
At one time the sight of the temple of El Gabal ( Deus Sol Invictus ) the god of Elagabalus , The church is built around a room in St. Helena’s imperial palace, Palazzo Sessoriano, which she adapted to a chapel around the year 320. Some decades later, the chapel was turned into a true basilica, called the Heleniana or Sessoriana. After falling into neglect, the church was restored by Pope Lucius II (1144-1145). In the occasion it assumed a Romanesque appearance, with a nave and two aisles, a belfry and a porch.
The church was also modified in the 16th century, but it assumed its current Baroque appearance under Benedict XIV (1740-1758), who had been the titular of the basilica prior to his elevation to the papacy. New streets were also opened to connect the church to two other major Roman basilicas, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. The façade of Santa Croce, designed by Pietro Passalacqua and Domenico Gregorini, shares the typical late Roman Baroque taste with these other basilicas.
Several well-known relics of disputed authenticity are housed in the Cappella delle Reliquie, built in 1930 by architect Florestano Di Fausto. They include: a part of the Elogium or Titulus Crucis, i.e. the panel which was hung on Christ’s Cross (generally either ignored by scholars or considered to be a medieval forgery); two thorns of the crown; an incomplete nail; and three small wooden pieces of the True Cross itself. A much larger piece of the cross was taken from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to St. Peter’s Basilica on the instructions of Pope Urban VIII in 1629 – where it is kept near the colossal 1639 statue of St. Helena by Andrea Bolgi.
Other relics enshrined in the Chapel include:
- A large fragment of the Good Thief’s cross;
- The bone of an index finger, said to be the finger of St. Thomas that he placed in the wounds of the Risen Christ
- A single reliquary containing small pieces of: the Scourging Pillar (to which Christ was tied as he was beaten); the Holy Sepulchre (Christ’s tomb); and the crib of Jesus
- Some fragments of the grotto of Bethlehem.
The apse of church includes frescoes telling the Legends of the True Cross, attributed to Melozzo, to Antoniazzo Romano and Marco Palmezzano. The Museum of the Basilica houses a mosaic icon from the 14th century: according to the legend, Pope Gregory I had it made after a vision of Christ. Notable is also the tomb of Cardinal Francisco de los Ángeles Quiñones, by Jacopo Sansovino (1536).
Peter Paul Rubens, who had arrived in Rome by way of Mantua in 1601, was commissioned by Archduke Albert of Austria to paint an altarpiece with three panels for the chapel St. Helena. Two of these paintings, St. Helena with the True Cross and The Mocking of Christ, are now in Grasse, France. The third, The Elevation of the Cross, is lost. Before his marriage, the archduke had been made a cardinal in this church.