The True Cross reveals itself by bringing a man back from the dead

Pocket Bard’s notes: This one’s kind of tricky. Really, I would only use the penultimate paragraph in any telling of the story; I provide the rest of it merely for content. (Long, long, somewhat meandering context.) I have a hard time figuring out Judas’ motivations for most of the story — first he says to tell Helena what she wants to know, then he abjectly refuses to tell her, and finally he cracks under torture. And later, apparently, becomes a bishop. I do like the idea that the True Cross reveals itself by bringing a dead man back to life, but I honestly can’t see how I’d work the rest of the surrounding text into any sort of interesting story.

The True Cross reveals itself by bringing a man back from the dead
The Golden Legend, Volume I, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.280-282

[Emperor Constantine sends his mother Helena to Jerusalem to search for the Holy Cross.]

When Helena arrived in Jerusalem, she gave orders that all the Jewish wise men located throughout the entire area should come together in her presence. This Helena had previously been an innkeeper or inn-servant, but because of her beauty Constantine [the elder] had attached her to himself. Ambrose has this to say about her: “They assert that this woman had been an innkeeper or servant, but was joined to Constantine the elder, who later became emperor. She was a good innkeeper, who diligently sought a crib for the Lord, a good hostess who knew about the innkeeper who healed the wounds of the man who fell among robbers, a good servant, who preferred to spurn all things as dung in order to gain Christ; therefore Christ lifted her up from the dunghill to the throne.” Thus Ambrose. Others, however, assert, and we read in a reasonably authentic chronicle, that this Helena was the only daughter of Clohel, king of the Britons. When Constantine came to Britain, he took Helena to wife, and so the island devolved to him after Clohel’s death. Even British sources attest this; yet elsewhere we read that Helena was a native of Trier.

Be that as it may, the Jewish scholars, somewhat alarmed, asked each other: “Why do you think the queen has summoned us?” One of their number, Judas by name, said: “I know why! She wants to learn from us the whereabouts of the wood of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Be cautious, therefore, and let no one of us presume to tell her! Otherwise you can be absolutely sure that our Law will be annulled and the tradition of the fathers completely wiped out. My grandfather Zacheus foretold this to my father Simon, and on his deathbed my father said to me: ‘Look, my son! When they come searching for Christ’s cross, show them where it is or you will be tortured; for from then on the Jewish nation will never reign, but those who adore the Crucified will rule, because Christ was indeed the Son of God.’ I asked him: ‘Father mine, if our forefathers truly knew that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, why did they nail him to the gibbet of the cross?’ ‘God knows,’ he replied, ‘that I was never in their counsels and often spoke against them. But because Christ denounced the vices of the Pharisees, they had him put to death on the cross. He rose again on the third day and ascended to heaven as his disciples looked on. My brother Stephen believed in him and the Jews in their madness stoned him to death. Be careful therefore, my son, and do not rashly blaspheme him or his disciples.’” It does not seem very probable, however, that this Jew’s father could have lived at the time of Christ’s passion, because from that time to Helena’s, when this Judas is supposed to have told his story, more than 270 years had elapsed—unless, perhaps, it could be said that men lived longer then than they do now.

However that may be, the Jewish scholars now said to Judas: “We have never heard anything like that; but if the queen questions you, see to it that you tell her nothing!” When they all stood before her, she asked them about the place where the Lord had been crucified. They refused absolutely to say where it was, and she condemned them all to die by fire. This frightened them and they handed Judas over to her, saying: “This man is the son of a just man and a prophet. He is learned in the Law and will give you the answers to all your questions.” So she dismissed them all except Judas, to whom she said: “You have the choice of death or life: choose which one you prefer! Show me the place called Golgotha, where the Lord was crucified, so that I may find his cross.” “How could I know the place?” he responded; “More than two hundred years have gone by since then!” “I swear by the Crucified,” the queen said, “that I will starve you to death unless you tell me the truth!” She therefore had him thrown into a dry well and left him to suffer the pangs of hunger. After he had been without food for six days, he asked to be pulled out of the well on the seventh, and promised to show where the cross was. He was lifted out, and when he came to the place and prayed there, the earth suddenly quaked and a mist of sweet-smelling perfumes greeting their senses. Judas, filled with wonder, clapped his hands and said: “In truth, O Christ, you are the Savior of the world!”

The Ecclesiastical History tells us that at that place there was a temple to Venus, which Hadrian had built so that any Christian who came to pray there would seem to be adoring Venus. For this reason few came and the place was almost consigned to oblivion; but Helena had the temple razed and the site plowed up. After that, Judas girded himself and started manfully to dig, and when he had dug down twenty yards, he found three crosses buried and took them forthwith to the queen. Since they had no way of distinguishing Christ’s cross from those of the thieves, they placed them in the center of the city and waited for the Lord to manifest his glory; and behold! At about the ninth hour the body of a young man was being carried past, and Judas halted the cortege. He held the first cross and the second over the body, but nothing happened. Then he extended the third cross, and the dead man immediately came back to life. In the histories of the Church we also read that when one of the leading women in the city lay close to death, Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, brought in first one and then another of the crosses, to no effect; but when he placed the third beside the lady, she opened her eyes at once and rose up cured.

Ambrose says that Judas determined which was the Lord’s cross by finding and reading the title that Pilate had placed on the cross. At that moment the devil was up in the air screaming and shouting: “O Judas, why have you done this? My Judas did the opposite: I pressed him and he betrayed his master, but you, despite my interdict, have found the cross of Jesus! Through the other Judas I gained the souls of many; through you I seem to be losing those I gained. Through him I reigned among the people, through you I will be expelled from my realm. But I will pay you back in turn: I will raise up another king against you, a king who will abandon the faith of the Crucified and by torture will make you deny the Crucified!” It would seem that he said this referring to Julian the Apostate, who, when Judas had become bishop of Jerusalem, inflicted many torments on him and made him a martyr of Christ. Judas heard the devil shouting and screaming but was not frightened in the least. Unshaken, he cursed the evil spirit, saying: “May Christ damn you to eternal fire!”


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