The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is in Rome, in Esquilino neighbourhood, at the vertex of three street: street Carlo Felice, street Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and street Eleniana. The church is one the Seven Pilgrims Churches of Rome.
Between the III and IV century a.C. the emperor Costantine and his mother Helena adapted a large room in the imperial palace Sessorium to be a church. That's the reason why Santa Croce is also called Basilica Heleniana or Sessoriana.
In VIII century the basilica was restored by pope Gregorio II and Adriano I, but in XII century, with pope Lucio II underwent a radical modification, according to the Romanesque style, with the subdivisions in three parts, a nave and two aisles, and the adding of a belfry and porch, the latter no more existing.
The current appearance is from XVIII century, under the reign of Pope Benedetto XIV, who was, before his election, the cardinal priest of the basilica. Architects Pietro Passalacqua and Domenico Gregorini built a late Baroque façade and an elliptical atrium.
From 1370 to 1561 a Chartusian monastery was next to the basilica. A trace of those monks can be found in the only side remaing of the choir, similar of those of St. John Lateran and St. Paul outside the Walls. Later the basilica was entrusted to the Cistercians monks, till 2009. From the same year the church was entrusted to secular priests.
In 1476, pope Sisto IV rebuilt the old Oratory of St. Mary of the Good Help, which was between Holy Cross and St. John Lateran. An old tradition says that during a violent storm, the pope took refuge near the Aurelian Walls, and was protected by an icon of the Virgin Mary. There he built the Chapel of St. Mary of the Good Help, where the icon still is.
Entering the church, you will see the perfect elliptical shape of the atrium, an original sign of the Baroque style. The nave is decorated by the Cosmatesque style. The columns, which are somewhat covered by the restoration, are of Roman age.
The altar preserves the remains of St. Cesario and St. Anastasio. The ciborium over the altar is an opera of Pietro Passalacqua and Domenico Gregorini.
The apse is decorated with a large fresco ascribed to Antoniazzo Romano, depicting Christ Blessing, coronated by seraphim, above a cycle of Stories of the Cross set in Jerusalem, about Jesus' Cross and Good Thief' cross' discovery.
Downstairs, behind the apse, there are two chapels. On the right, there's the Chapel of St. Helena, whose vault is decorated by a mosaic, depicting Christ Blessing, the Four Evangelists and four Stories of the Cross. In that mosaic are shown for the first time, birds native of America, such as parrots and toucans. According to the tradition, below the roof, there was the original ground of Jerusalem, thus the name of the basilica.
On the left there's the Chapel of St. Gregorio, with a Pietà of XVII century, by an unknown author.
The Relics of the Holy Cross
The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem keeps the Relics of the Passion of Jesus in the Chapel of Relics, which is upstairs the left aisles. The most famous ones are the fragments of the Holy Cross of Jesus, found by St. Helena on Calvarium in Jerusalem.
The other relics include the Titulus Crucis, the inscription which was on the top of the cross, according to the Gospel; one of the nail; two thorns of the crown of Jesus; the finger of St. Thomas, the Apostle who doubted Christ's resurrection; part of the Good Thief's cross.
The Parish of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem was instituted by pope St. Pio X in 1910.
On March 31, 1910, cardinal Respighi, Cardinal Vicar of the Pope inaugurated the parish, in front of many jubilant people.
In 2010, the parish celebrated its first centenary.