Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome, Italy

The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, located in Rome, is one of the seven ancient pilgrimage churches. While it is as beautiful as any basilica here, it’s extra special because it has relics from the Cross, brought to Rome by St Helen.

Located in the relics area, you’ll find a glassed in case with a piece of the true Cross, and one of the nails used in the Crucifixion. Later, the fragments of the Grotto of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre, the joint of the finger of St. Thomas, a part of the cross of the Good Thief, and two thorns from the Crown of Jesus to complete the catechesis on the Passion were added to the relics collection. There is also the wooden tablet of the Cross, which reports the reason for the death sentence using Hebrew, Greek, and Latin characters.

There’s also a replica of the Shroud, with a description of the marks on it. Next to it is a statue with the shroud reconstructed based on the markings.

I grew up Catholic but am not practicing, but it still very cool to see the relics. There were a lot of people praying there, including about a dozen nuns, and it was nice to see religion being used as a comfort, rather than an excuse like it is for every bullshit thing in the US.

There is a chapel for St Helen on the other side of the basilica from the relics. It has a statue of St Helen carrying the Cross, and the bottom of the statue is encased in plastic. That is where she sprinkled the soil that she brought with the piece of the Cross to Rome.

The ceiling in her chapel is a gorgeous mosaic, and one of the few known pieces of art where Jesus is smiling.

The rest of the church is beautiful, too. There is something to see in every corner. You would need hours in there to truly see every piece of art and history contained in the basilica.

Surprisingly, there weren’t many other people there. Compared to the other basilicas in Rome, this one was basically empty. It is a bit out of the way from the city center (50 min walk from our Airbnb near the Pantheon) but absolutely worth going to. Whether you’re religious, into history, or just want a cool, quiet, free place to hang out for a bit, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is absolutely worth the visit.

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