Crown of Thorns


I was fortunate to see the The Crown of Thorns, a relic at Notre Dame Catherdral in Paris a few years ago.

It has a colourful history.

St. Paulinus of Nola, writing after 409 AD, referred to “the thorns with which Our Saviour was crowned” as relics held in honour. Cassiodorus (c. 570), when commenting on Psalm lxxxvi, speaks of the Crown of Thorns among the other relics which are the glory of the earthly Jerusalem. “There”, he says, “we may behold the thorny crown, which was only set upon the head of Our Redeemer in order that all the thorns of the world might be gathered together and broken”. Gregory of Tours, in De Gloria Martyri, mentions that the thorns in the Crown still looked green. Antoninus of Piacenza (6th century) wrote that the Crown of Thorns was currently shown in the church on Mount Zion. From these fragments of evidence and others of later date (the “Pilgrimage” of the monk Bernard shows that the relic was still at Mount Zion in 870), it is likely that what purported to be the Crown of Thorns was venerated at Jerusalem from the 5th century for several hundred years.

According to Francois de Mély, the whole Crown was not transferred to Byzantium until about 1063. In any case Justinian (d. 565) is stated to have given a thorn to St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, which was long preserved at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, while the Empress Irene, in 798 or 802, sent Charlemagne several thorns which were deposited by him at Aachen. Eight of these are said to have been there at the consecration of the basilica of Aachen. Four were given to Saint-Corneille of Compiègne in 877 by Charles the Bald. One was sent to the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan in 927, and eventually found its way to Malmesbury Abbey. Another was presented to a Spanish princess about 1160, and again another was taken to Andechs in Germany in the year 1200.

The Holy Crown of Jesus Christ was bought by Louis IX from Baldwin II. It is preserved today in a 19th century reliquary, in Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris.


Louis built the Sainte-Chapelle (completed 1248) to receive it. The relic stayed there until the French Revolution, when, after finding a home for a while in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Concordat of 1801 restored it to the Church, and it was deposited in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. New reliquaries were provided for the relic, one commissioned by Napoleon, another, in jewelled rock crystal and more suitably Gothic, was made to the designs of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. In 2001, when the surviving treasures from the Sainte-Chapelle were exhibited at the Louvre, the chaplet was solemnly presented every Friday at Notre Dame. Pope John Paul II translated it personally to the Sainte-Chapelle during the World Youth Days.

According to M. De Mély, by the time when the crown was brought to Paris the sixty or seventy thorns had been separated from the band of rushes and were kept in a different reliquary. None of these now remain at Paris. Some small fragments of rush are also preserved … at Arras and at Lyons. With regard to the origin and character of the thorns, both tradition and existing remains suggest that they must have come from the bush botanically known as Ziziphus spina-christi, more popularly, the jujube tree. This reaches the height of fifteen or twenty feet and is found growing in abundance by the wayside around Jerusalem. The crooked branches of this shrub are armed with thorns growing in pairs, a straight spine and a curved one commonly occurring together at each point. The relic preserved in the Capella della Spina at Pisa, as well as that at Trier, which though their early history is doubtful and obscure, are among the largest in size, afford a good illustration of this peculiarity.

Not all of the reputed holy thorns are authentic. Many of the thorns were relics of the third class—objects touched to a relic of the first class, in this case some part of the crown itself. (A relic of the first class is a part of the body of a saint or, in this case, any of the objects used in the Crucifixion that carried the blood of Christ; a relic of the second class is anything known to have been touched or used by a saint; a relic of the third class is a devotional object touched to a first-class relic and, usually, formally blessed as a sacramental.) Again, even in comparatively modern times it is not always easy to trace the history of these objects of devotion, as first-class relics were often divided and any number of authentic third-class relics may exist.

The following are listed in “Gazeteer of Relics and Miraculous Images” lists the following:

Belgium: Parochial Church of Wevelgem: a portion of the Crown of Thorns
Belgium: Ghent, St. Michael’s Church: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
France: Notre Dame de Paris: a portion of the Crown of Thorns, now devoid of thorns, displayed the first Friday of each month and all Fridays in Lent (including Good Friday)
France: Sainte-Chapelle: a portion of the Crown of Thorns, brought to the site by Louis IX.
Germany:Cathedral of Trier: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
Italy: Rome, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
Italy: Rome, Santa Prassede: a small portion of the Crown of Thorns
Italy: Pisa, Spedali Riuniti di Santa Chiara: a Branch with Thorns from the Crown of Thorns
Italy: Naples, Santa Maria Incoronata: a fragment of the Crown of Thorns
Italy: Ariano Irpino, Cathedral: two Thorns from the Crown of Thorns
Spain: Oviedo, Cathedral: five thorns (formerly eight) from the Crown of Thorns
Spain: Barcelona, Cathedral: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
Spain: Seville, Iglesia de la Anunciación (Hermandad del Valle): a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
United Kingdom: Stanbrook Abbey, Worcester: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
United Kingdom: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns

It was at Notre Dame that my father and I had the fortune of seeing it. Three priests held it on a velvet pillow, protected by a crystal ring in which it lay. As we reached the front of the line, we bent to kiss the relic. We were in good company; Eva Peron kissed the very same Crown of Thorns when she visited Paris as part of her Rainbow Tour:



The Title of the True Cross

The Holy Relic “Ex titulo DNJC” is on display at St. Croce

According to several Church historians of the 4th and 5th century, the Title of the Cross was discovered in 325 AD when St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great ordered the removal of a pagan temple built by Hadrian over the site of the Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre.

Helena divided the most precious wood inscription and brought the half with the words I NAZARINUS R… to Rome. It is still preserved and venerated in the Basilica di S. Croce, one of the seven main churches of the Eternal City.

In 1998, a careful investigation was commissioned by the Vatican and seven Israeli experts on the dating of inscriptions (comparative palaeography) dated its letters into the 1st century, the time of Christ. This makes it one of the most remarkable and most authentic relics of the Passion of Our Lord. It is the only contemporary document naming Our Lord and confirming the veracity of the Gospels – it also proclaimed that He was the true messiah, the “King of the Jews”




There is much confusion among those wishing to identify religious relics, due to the use of Latin abbreviations. I have put together a short list of the more common ones:

arca mortuaria – mortuary box, container
arca sepulerali- coffin
breviario – breviary
coronse spinse D.N.J.C. – crown of thorns of Our Lord Jesus Christ
[cravio] corporis – body
de velo – from the veil
domini nostri jesu christi, D.N.J.C. – Our Lord Jesus Christ
domo – house
ex bireto – from the biretta
ex capillus – from the hair
ex carne – from the flesh
ex cineribus – from the ashes
ex indumento – from the clothing
ex ligneo pulvere, mixto pulveri corporis, quem residuum continebat prima capsa funeralis – from the remains of the wood, mixed with the dust of the body, the residue of which was contained in the first box, [or sarcophagus]
ex ossibus – from the bones
ex praecordis – from the stomach or intestines
ex praesepis – birthplace of D.N.J.C.
ex pelle – from the skin
ex pluviali – cope [ cloak wore for Benediction ]
ex sportula – from the little basket
ex stipite affixionis – probably means “from the whipping post”
ex strato – from the covering [ blanket ]
ex tela serica quae tetigit cor – from the silk cloth which touched the heart
ex tunica – from the tunic

Now let’s move forward to the initials that follow the name to which the relic belongs:

AP. – Apostle
C. – Confessor
D. – Doctor of the Church
E. – Bishop
EV. – Evangelist
F. – Founder of Order
Lev. – Deacon
M. – Martyr
Poen. – Penitent
PP. – Pope
Reg. – King or Queen
V. – Virgin
Vid. – Widow