Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem
Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Basilica Sanctae Crucis in Hierusalem
Santa Croce in Gerusalemme at night
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41°53′16″N 12°30′59″E / 41.8878°N 12.5164°E / 41.8878; 12.5164
LocationPiazza di S. Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome, Italy
DenominationCatholic Church
TraditionLatin Church
StatusMinor basilica, titular church
DedicationTrue Cross
Consecratedca. AD 325
Architectural typeChurch
Length70 metres (230 ft)
Width37 metres (121 ft)

The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem or Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Latin: Basilica Sanctae Crucis in Hierusalem) is a Catholic Minor basilica and titular church in rione Esquilino, Rome, Italy. It is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

According to Christian tradition, the basilica was consecrated circa 325 to house the relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ brought to Rome from the Holy Land by Empress Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I. The basilica's floor was covered with soil from Jerusalem, thus acquiring the title in Hierusalem; it is not dedicated to the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, but the basilica was considered in a sense to be "in Jerusalem" (much in the way that an embassy today is considered extraterritorial). The current Cardinal Priest of the Titulus S. Crucis in Hierusalem is Juan José Omella.


The basilica is built on the foundations of an imperial villa called Horti Variani ad Spem Veterem which was begun by the Emperor Septimius Severus and finished by the Emperor Elagabalus in the third century. The site included the Amphitheatrum Castrense, the Circus Varianus and the Eleniane Baths (so called after the restoration carried out by the Empress Helena). It contained a residential nucleus in which there was a large hall (later forming the basis for the basilica) and an apsed hall.

The villa was deprived of some of its material when the Aurelian Walls were constructed in 272. At the beginning of the 4th century the palace was chosen as a residence by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, with the name of Palazzo Sessoriano. The name Sessoriano comes from the Latin sedeo, or "siedo" since in the late imperial era the imperial council used to meet in a hall of the palace. It was on her initiative that the large rectangular hall was transformed into a Christian basilica around 320, originally covered by a flat ceiling, illuminated by twenty windows placed five on each side and with valuable marble decoration in the lower register.[1] Helena had some soil from Calvary dispersed.

The basilica of Santa Croce was declared a titular church by Pope Gregory I in 523. Despite the fact it was located on the outskirts of Rome, it became a destination of regular pilgrimage, thanks to the popularity of the relics it kept. In the eighth century, the basilica was restored by Pope Gregory II.[2] After the Basilica fell into neglect, Pope Lucius II restored it in the 12th century, giving it a Romanesque appearance, with a nave, two aisles, belfry, and porch. The Cosmatesque pavement dates from this period. Of the eight original floors of the bell tower, only the last four remain visible; the first four floors are instead incorporated into the monastery below.

The foundation of the monastery dates to the 10th century. Over the centuries, various religious communities have alternated in the complex. Pope Leo IX, in 1049, entrusted the monastery to the Benedictines of Montecassino. In 1062 Pope Alexander II installed the Canons Regular of San Frediano di Lucca, who abandoned it during the period of the Avignonese papacy. Around 1370, Pope Urban V assigned Santa Croce to the Carthusians, who remained there until 1561, when the Lombard Cistercians of the Congregation of Saint Bernard took over. This congregation was finally suppressed in 2011 by a decree of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, after an inquiry found evidence of liturgical and financial irregularities as well as irregular lifestyle.[3]

Throughout the course of the Middle Ages the basilica was a popular destination for pilgrimages, particularly of a penitential type, and especially during the period of Lent. On Good Friday popes themselves walked barefoot, as a sign of penance, along the road that connected Saint John Lateran (official Cathedral of Rome) to the basilica of Santa Croce to come and venerate the relic of the Passion of Jesus. This tradition was then taken up by the Roman Missal and integrated into the Liturgy of Good Friday, which includes a period of adoration of the cross.

In the vault is a mosaic designed by Melozzo da Forlì, created some time before 1485 and depicting Jesus Blessing, Histories of the Cross, and various saints. The altar has a large statue of St. Helena, which was created by adapting an ancient statue of the Roman goddess Juno discovered at Ostia. The basilica was further modified in the 16th century.

In 1601, during his first stay in Rome, Peter Paul Rubens was commissioned by Archduke Albert of Austria to paint his first altarpiece, St. Helena with the True Cross, for one of the side chapels.[4] Two of the side panels, St. Helena with the True Cross and The Mocking of Christ, are now in Grasse, France. The third, The Elevation of the Cross, has been lost. The church assumed its current late Baroque appearance under Pope Benedict XIV (1740–58), who had been its titular, prior to his elevation to the Papacy. This eighteenth-century restructuring led to a total renewal of the interior, with the vault painted by Corrado Giaquinto (a celebrated artist of the time). Finally, new streets were also opened to connect the Basilica to San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. The façade of the Basilica, which was designed by Pietro Passalacqua and Domenico Gregorini,[5] shares the typical late Roman Baroque style of these other basilicas.

Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, interior
Renaissance-era engraving of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Santa Croce in Gerusalemme surrounded by countryside, 1848 painting

Cappella delle Reliquie

Several famous relics of disputed authenticity are housed in the Cappella delle Reliquie, built in 1930 by architect Florestano Di Fausto, including part of the Elogium or Titulus Crucis, i.e. the panel which was hung on Christ's Cross (generally either ignored by scholars[6] or considered to be a medieval forgery[7]); two thorns of the Crown of Thorns; part of a nail; the index finger of St. Thomas; and three small wooden pieces of the True Cross. A much larger piece of the True Cross was taken from the Basilica on the instructions of Pope Urban VIII in 1629 to St. Peter's Basilica, where it is kept near the colossal statue of St. Empress Helena sculpted by Andrea Bolgi in 1639.[8]

Other Art

The apse of the Basilica includes frescoes telling the Legends of the True Cross, attributed to Melozzo, Antoniazzo Romano, and Marco Palmezzano. The Museum of the Basilica houses a mosaic icon which, according to the legend, Pope Gregory I had made after a vision of Christ. The icon, however, is believed to have been given to the Basilica around 1385 by Raimondo Del Balzo Orsini.[9] Notable also is the tomb of Cardinal Francisco de Quiñones sculpted by Jacopo Sansovino in 1536.

List of Cardinal-Priests

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  1. ^ Hughes, Robert (2011). Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-307-26844-0.
  2. ^ "History", The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem
  3. ^ "Pope shuts down irregular monastery in Rome". BBC News. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-26.
  4. ^ Zirpolo, Lilian H., Historical Dictionary of Baroque Art and Architecture, Scarecrow Press, 2010, p. xvi, ISBN 9781461659198
  5. ^ "Santa Croce in Gerusalemme Church", World Monuments Fund
  6. ^ Morris, Colin (2005). The sepulchre of Christ and the medieval West: from the beginning to 1600. OUP Oxford. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-19-826928-1.
  7. ^ Byrne, Ryan; McNary-Zak, Bernadette (2009). Resurrecting the Brother of Jesus: The James Ossuary Controversy and the Quest for Religious Relics. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-8078-3298-1.
  8. ^ Partially referenced by Basilica of St. Peter
  9. ^ Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004, p. 222, ISBN 9781588391131
  10. ^ Ott, Michael. "Pope Lucius II." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 7 November 2017
  11. ^ Shahan, Thomas. "Domenico Capranica." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 7 November 2017
  12. ^ "Miranda, Salvador. "Capranica, Angelo", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church". Archived from the original on 2018-01-21. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  13. ^ Ott, Michael. "Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 7 November 2017
  14. ^ Shahan, Thomas. "Bernardino Lopez de Carvajal." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 7 November 2017
  15. ^ "Miranda, Salvador. "Ciocchi del Monte, Antonio Maria", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church". Archived from the original on 2017-10-28. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  16. ^ "Miranda, Salvador. "Cueva yY Toledo, Bartolomé de la", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Florida International University". Archived from the original on 2018-01-05. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  17. ^ "Miranda, Salvador. "Capizucchi, Gianantonio", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, FIU". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  18. ^ Guilelmus van Gulik and Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii et recentioris aevi Volumen tertium, editio altera (ed. L. Schmitz-Kallenberg) (Monasterii 1923), p. 45.
  19. ^ Miranda, Salvador. "Scitovszky, János", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Florida International University


Media related to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Santa Croce in Via Flaminia
Landmarks of Rome
Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Succeeded by