Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and I'm sure all over the Church relics of the True Cross are being exposed and venerated.
However, many still doubt that these relics may be genuine, and one of the most frequent accusations aimed at such relics is that there are so many relics of the Cross there is enough wood to build a battleship. The Dutch writer Erasmus, I believe, was the one who came up with this quip, and the Protestant reformers spread it throughout the world as a means of undermining the cult of relics.
Well, one Frenchman decided to see if this quip was true. Charles Rohault de Fleury carried out an extensive investigation and published his findings in his Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion in 1870. He conducted an exhaustive search of all the known relics of the True Cross, cataloguing and carefully measuring them. In his archaeological research he discovered that a typical Roman cross, usually constructed from pine-wood, measured three to four metres in height with a cross beam of about two metres. This would give a weight of approximately seventy-five kilogrammes with a volume of 178,000,000 cubic millimetres. Taking the sum of all the relics in his catalogue, he calculated the volume which amounted to 4,000,000 cubic millimetres, 174,000,000 short of an average Roman cross.
So, even if de Fleury had overlooked a number of relics, even sizeable ones, it seemed Erasmus’ little quip was untrue. So if today you come before a relic of the True Cross at Mass or in a reputable church or community, then it is most likely the real thing. And remember information for your next bout with an evangelical.
Happy feast day!
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