According to tradition, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, one of the 'Seven Pilgrimage Churches' of Rome, was founded by St Helena (c. 250 - c. 330), mother of the emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-37).
St Helena also founded churches in the Holy Land and it was there, according to legend, that she discovered the cross on which Christ was crucified. In 327 St Helena returned to Rome with fragments of the True Cross and other relics.
It was probably shortly after her return that work began on Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which was built within the Sessorium, a large palace that belonged to St Helena.
Centuries later the church was rebuilt by Pope Lucius II (r. 1144-45), who added the brick bell tower.
The church acquired its present appearance during the reign of Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740-58), who had been its titular cardinal. The facade is the work of Domenico Gregorini and Pietro Passalacqua. The interior dates back to the same period, but incorporates work from earlier centuries, such as the beautiful Cosmati pavement, one of the finest in Rome, and the fresco cycle of the Invention of the True Cross in the apse, attributed to Antoniazzo Romano (c. 1430 - c. 1510).
The Chapel of the Relics, which was built by Florestano di Fausto in 1930, is home to the famous Titulus Crucis, held, by some, to be the wooden tablet that was hung at the top of the Cross, proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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