Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: PHOTOS and/or SOUVENIR(S) (vacation) (07/16/15)
TITLE: Buried Treasure
By Gregory Kane
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"It's filigree silver," I said, "sliding the ornamental cross towards him. "You can just make out the sliver of wood where the threads have been delicately drawn apart."
"For the price you paid, it ought to be 24 carat gold. They must have seen you coming a mile off."
"But it's the wood that matters," I insisted. "That's what make it precious. The silver is little more than ornamentation. Just think about what this means: for the rest of my life I get to carry a portion of the True Cross around my neck. What a fantastic privilege!"
My pastor pulled off his spectacles and began polishing the lenses with a tissue: "I presume you are familiar with the legends of its discovery."
"Of course," I replied, eager to show off my knowledge of church history. "The salesman explained it all in great detail. He even threw in a booklet at no extra cost. According to tradition, Constantine's mother Helena went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. To her horror, she found that a pagan temple had been erected on top of the place where Jesus had been buried. Immediately she used her imperial authority to have the idolatrous shrine torn down. This in turn unearthed Jesus' tomb and then, while the wider excavation was in process, some workmen came across three ancient crosses that had been buried nearby."
"And I suppose the booklet explained how Helena knew which was the True Cross."
"It did. The Empress knew from Scripture that two of the crosses must have belonged to the thieves who died beside Jesus. So she called for an invalid to be brought out to the site. Helena's attendants laid a sick woman on each of the crosses in turn but, when she touched the third cross, she was instantly and miraculously healed. That's how everyone could tell!"
I couldn't work out why my minister was sighing and shaking his head. How could he not he convinced by such incontrovertible evidence? "What's troubling you?" I enquired.
"I don't imagine that you have heard of Eusebius of Caesarea?" Interpreting my shrug as a negation, he continued: "Eusebius lived in Palestine during the same period as Constantine. He was a bishop and a scholar and he wrote rather prolifically. In his Life of Constantine, he confirms that a pagan temple had been built on what we now know as the site of the Holy Sepulchre and that the Emperor ordered that this be removed and a church erected in its place. However, Eusebius makes no mention whatsoever of anyone finding these three crosses."
"So what?" I protested. "Even if he didn't, other historians must have written about it."
"Indeed. The first written account of this legend was related by a man named Socrates Scholasticus. Only he wasn't born until 50 years after Helena's death. So I'm not sure that we can class him as a reliable eye-witness."
I love my pastor, I really do. But I hate it when he shows off like this. Okay, fair enough, I had sent him a series of excited text messages from holiday, so he had clearly had time to do his research. But there's no need to rub it in!
"To be fair," he went on, "there are multiple accounts of the True Cross being broken up and distributed round the four corners of Christendom. But I'm not admitting that anyone actually preserved the bare timbers that Jesus was crucified upon. I think it's far more likely that the wood was simply recycled for the next person to be executed. Even if Helena did uncover some weather-worn lumber, I very much doubt it had any actual historical significance."
"So you think it's all just a con?"
"Let me ask you this. How can you be sure that that tiny sliver of wood in your crucifix even came from Helena's haul of relics? For all you know, the craftsman could have chiselled it off an old tree stump in his backyard."
"But I have a certificate."
I thought about this for a moment and then shrugged my own shoulders in weary resignation: "And nothing."
The old man rose to his feet and ruffled my hair with obvious affection. "It's a beautiful cross," he conceded. "Wear it with pride, just don't go expecting that it will draw you any closer to God. That's where faith comes in."
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