Erich Lessing

Bishop Cyril (c. 315–386 C.E.) sits at his desk, writing one of his famous catechetical lectures. He receives inspiration from the church father Jerome, who appears above in a vision, surrounded by golden light, in this painting from the Louvre by Sienese artist Sano di Pietro. Author Drijvers suggests that the fourth-century bishop might have been the driving force behind the anonymous legend of Helena and the true cross. Today, the earliest known version of the legend is one included in a history of the church compiled by Cyril’s nephew and protégé, Bishop Gelasius of Caesarea.

As presiding bishop at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Cyril did everything in his means to attract pilgrims to Jerusalem. He boasted of the fragments of the true cross kept in his church. “Every deed of Christ is a cause of glorying in the Church,” he wrote, “but her greatest glory of all is the cross of Christ.” For Cyril, these physical remains from the crucifixion were the best evidence that Jesus “really suffered for all men … His death was not a mere show, for then is our salvation also fabulous.”