About half a century after Helena made her famous trip to Palestine, another female pilgrim headed east: Egeria, a Roman citizen from the western provinces, kept a careful journal of her trip. Unfortunately, only about a third of her text remains; the only extant copy, discovered in Italy in the late 19th century, is missing the beginning and ending. Thus, we lack some very basic information about the author, including where she came from and what year she began her journey. What we do have is a remarkably detailed account of her three-year stay in Jerusalem and her trips to Alexandria, the Sinai and Constantinople.
Having arrived in Jerusalem just before Easter, Egeria gives a day-by-day description of the Holy Week festivities at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Significantly, Egeria—like our other early sources—never mentions Helena in connection with the church. But she does emphasize the importance of the relics of the cross to the Jerusalem church. According to Egeria, the Friday of Holy Week was reserved for the veneration of the relics of the cross, which were carefully guarded by the bishop and his deacons:
Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the cross (the cross that is now standing); the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the cross. The casket is opened and [the wood] is taken out, and both the wood of the cross and the titulus are placed upon the table.
Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the ends of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded this way because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and bow down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, someone is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should dare to do so again.
And as all the people pass by one by one, bowing, they touch the cross and the titulus, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the cross and pass by, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it …
And when the sixth hour has come, they go before the cross, whether it be in rain or in heat, the place being open to the air, as it were, a court of great size and of some beauty between the cross and the Anastasis [the Rotunda]; here all the people assemble in such great numbers that there is no thoroughfare.
The chair is placed for the bishop before the cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done, but the reading of lessons, which are read thus: first from the Psalms wherever the Passion is spoken of, then from the apostles, either from the epistles of the apostles or from their Acts, wherever they have spoken of the Lord’s Passion; then the passages from the Gospels, where He suffered, are read. Then the readings from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord should suffer, then from the Gospels where He mentions His Passion …
The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is not one, either great or small, who, on that day, during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us. Afterwards, at the beginning of the ninth hour, there is read that passage from the Gospel according to John where He gave up the ghost. And when that has been read, there is a prayer and a dismissal.