Exaltation of the Cross

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Liturgical Exaltation of the Cross (September 14th), Byzantine illumination, Cod.Vat.gr. 1613 ( Menologion of Basil II ), 11th century.

Exaltation of the Cross or Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ( Latin [Festum] in exaltatione sanctae Crucis ) is the name of a feast that is celebrated on September 14th in the church year of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches . The Armenian Church and Protestant communities celebrate the exaltation of the Holy Cross as a day of remembrance.


Veneration of a splendor cross; Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (1412/16), folio 193r

The origin of this festival lies in the annual octave of the consecration of the church complex in Jerusalem, wanted by Emperor Constantine, at the place that was venerated as the place of the crucifixion and burial of Christ, the so-called Church of the Holy Sepulcher . This elaborately designed celebration is connected early with the memory of the wonderful discovery of the "True Cross" of Christ , which the Empress Helena owes. Every year on September 14th the “True Cross” was shown to the people of faith and honored with acclamations. In addition, on Good Friday in Jerusalem there was the possibility of individual veneration of the relic of the "True Cross" kept there by the faithful, in fact apparently only a larger piece that could be kept in a relic box. Over time, the commemoration of church consecration in Jerusalem took a back seat to the presentation (“exaltation”) and community veneration of the cross relic. With the almost worldwide spread of cross relics, which was already widely observed in the middle of the 4th century, the Jerusalem ceremonial was also imitated elsewhere in the East and West, for example in the Byzantine rite , partly with the replacement of the relics ( cross particles ) by often splendid ones (hence veiled during Lent) replicas of the cross. This sometimes led to a connection between the exaltation of the cross and individual veneration, as is still the case today in the Catholic Good Friday liturgy .

In 614 the troops of the Persian king Chosrau II invaded Jerusalem . The wood of the cross in a silver cross reliquary was taken to the royal city of Ctesiphon , near today's Baghdad , together with Patriarch Zacharias . The cross was won back a few years later through the victory of the Eastern Roman emperor Herakleios over the Persians. In 628 the emperor brought the cross to his capital, Constantinople, in triumph. According to recent investigations, on March 21st, 630 (or 631) he moved with a brilliant entourage to Jerusalem to bring the highly venerated relic back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher behind the Golgotha ​​hill . However, it did not remain permanently in Jerusalem, but was transferred to Constantinople in 635.

Today the largest known cross relics are in storage libraries in the Vatican, on Mount Athos , in Brussels, Venice, Ghent , Paris and Limburg ( Limburg storage library ); very many smaller ones are spread over the world. The allegedly largest north of the Alps is located in Heiligenkreuz Abbey (Lower Austria). In the vast majority of Catholic churches, replicas of the cross of Christ have been shown and venerated on Good Friday for centuries.

Liturgy of the feast

Roman Catholic

The first day reading Num 21.4 to 9  EU linked the veneration of the Cross with the Old Testament story of the copper serpent that Moses during a snake plague make and should hang on a pole. Looking up at her brought salvation.

The Gospel from the night conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus ( John 3 : 13-17  EU ) gives the following interpretation: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes (in him), has eternal life in him ”.

The preface of the day contrasts the cross of Christ as the tree of life typologically with the tree of the fall from which death originated: “You (God) founded the salvation of the world on the wood of the cross. From the tree of paradise came death, from the tree of the cross life arose. The enemy [= snake, devil] who has triumphed on the wood was also defeated on the wood by our Lord Jesus Christ. "

The hymns of Venantius Fortunatus, written in the year 600 in the lauds and in the Vespers of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, are the same as in Holy Week : Vexilla regis ( The king wins, his banner shines ) and Holy Cross, you tree of loyalty .

Since the Exaltation of the Cross as the Lord's Feast is higher in the liturgical hierarchy than a Sunday in the annual cycle, it supersedes this in the years in which it falls on a Sunday.

Churches consecrated to the Holy Cross celebrate their patronage on September 14th , often combined with a procession or pilgrimage , for example in Ottbergen near Hildesheim. The most important cruciform church, one of the seven Roman pilgrimage churches, is Santa Croce in Gerusalemme . The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is one of the festivities of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem .

Until the reform of the liturgical calendar by Pope John XXIII. on July 25, 1960, the feast of the finding of the cross was celebrated on May 3 . Since then, the finding of the cross has also been commemorated on September 14th as a “festival of the cross”. In the German-speaking countries, May 3rd has only occasional regional significance and in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. In Latin America, especially in Peru, the celebration of the cross feasts in May ( Cruz de Mayo ) is still widespread.

Evangelical and Anglican

The day is celebrated as Holy Cross Day in parts of the Anglican Church and those (especially English-speaking) Lutheran churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary . It is also listed in the Evangelical Book of Times of the Evangelical Michael Brotherhood .

In German-speaking countries, the day of the Exaltation of the Cross is not found in the calendars of Protestant churches. In the English-speaking world, numerous Protestant and Anglican churches use the Revised Common Lectionary . In the case of the Exaltation of the Cross, its readings are independent of the reading year:

Before the worship of the cross
  • First reading: 4. 21 Mos, 4b-9 (see 4 Mos 21.4 to 9  NRSV )
  • Psalm: Ps 98.1 to 5  NRSV or Ps 78,1-2.34-38 (see Ps 78.1 to 38  NRSV )
  • Second reading: 1 Cor 1: 18–24  NRSV
  • Gospel: Joh 3,13-17  NRSV

Cross worship on Good Friday

Cross worship in the Good Friday liturgy (Portugal)

In the liturgy of the Catholic liturgy, the worship of the cross takes place on Good Friday in celebration of the suffering and death of Christ . A crucifix is shown raised to the fellow celebrants ("Exaltation of the Cross"), and the priest invites everyone to worship the cross with a sung cry. This traditional call to prayer is “See the wood of the cross on which the salvation of the world is hung. Come, let us adore! ”(Latin: Ecce lignum crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit. Venite adoremus! ). Afterwards, all those celebrating step to the cross in procession and worship it with the classic symbols of the adoring squat and the kiss . Meanwhile, the improperies or songs like O du hochheilig Kreuze or Heilges Kreuz, be highly revered , are traditionally sung.

See also


  • Louis Van Tongeren: Exaltation of the Cross. Toward the Origins of the Feast of the Cross and the Meaning of the Cross in Early Medieval Liturgy (= Liturgia Condenda 11). Peeters, Leuven 2000.
  • Louis Van Tongeren: From Rite of the Cross to Theology of the Cross. The genesis of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and its first spread in the West. In: Ephemerides Liturgicae 112 (1998) 216–245.
  • Carla Heussler: De Cruce Christi. Finding the Cross and Exalting the Cross: Functional Change and Historicization in the Post-Tridentine Period. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2006, ISBN 3-506-71373-6 .
  • Michael Daniel Findikyan: Armenian Hymns of the Church and the Cross. In: St. Nersess Theological Review 11 (2006) 62-104.
  • Michael Daniel Findikyan: Armenian Hymns of the Holy Cross and the Jerusalem Encaenia. In: Revue des Études Arméniennes 32 (201) 25-58.

Web links

Commons : Exaltation of the Cross  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Exaltation of the cross  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Cyril of Jerusalem in the year 351: “The saving wood of the cross was found in Jerusalem under your most beloved father Constantine in blessed memory” ( Epistula ad Constantinum II Imperatorem, 3 , and in the year 348: “The holy wood of the cross bears witness as it can be seen with us to this day, and from this place almost the entire earth was filled with parts. "(Cyrillus, Catechesis IV, 10; here page 119 (in English) ) (PDF; 21, 9 MB) The legend of the finding of the cross is literarily palpable for the first time in 395 with Ambrose : Ambrosius: De obitu Theodosii (memorial speech on the death of Theodosius), 45.46 : "Helena went to Golgotha, had the ground dug up and the earth removed ... and found the holy cross with the inscription. "
  2. The late antique repertoire of hymns for the festival of Jerusalem on September 14th has been preserved in an old Georgian translation: Charles Renoux: L'Hymnaire de Saint-Sabas (Ve – VIIIe siècle) , Vol. 2 (Patrologia Orientalis 53, 1). Turnhout 2015, 607-631.
  3. A. Frolov: La relic de la vraie Croix . Paris 1961, 73.
  4. ^ On the pilgrimage to Ottbergen ( Memento from October 9, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Online version of the Revised Common Lectionary on the Vanderbilt Divinity Library website