The cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris is exposing relics of the Passion of Christ for the veneration of the faithful: the Crown of Thorns, a piece of the True Cross and one of the nails of the Passion will be exposed each Friday of the month at 3 pm, each Friday of Lent at the same time, and on Good Friday from 10 am to 5 pm.
The veneration of the instruments of the Passion of Christ has been mentioned since the 4th century in the accounts of pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem, in particular the True Cross discovered by St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, shortly after the Council of Nicea in 325. Between the 7th and 10th centuries, the relics were progressively transferred to Constantinople and the chapel of the Byzantine emperors to protect them from looting such as that carried out at the Holy Sepulchre during the Persian invasions.
In 1238, Baudoin II of Courtenay, the Latin emperor of Byzantium, found himself in dire financial straits and offered to let the Crown of Thorns in pawn to Louis IX, king of France. St. Louis accepted.
On August 19, 1239, the procession arrived in Paris. St. Louis cast off his royal finery and barefoot, wearing a simple tunic, with the assistance of his brother Robert d’Artois, carried the Crown of Thorns to Notre-Dame de Paris. He then had a reliquary built for these relics: the Sainte-Chapelle. During the French Revolution, these relics were deposited at the Abbey of Saint-Denis, and then when their reliquaries were gone, at the National Library. After the Concordat of 1801, the Crown of Thorns, along with some other relics, was handed over to the archbishop of Paris in 1804, and they were put into the cathedral treasury on August 10, 1806. They have been kept there since, under the care of the Chapter canons, who are responsible for their veneration, and the statutory care of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
St. Louis gave the canons of St. Maurice a reliquary of crystal containing one of the Holy Thorns. Indeed, the king had an equal devotion for the relics of the Theban martyrs at the abbey St. Maurice d’Agaune, in Switzerland. He received, as a particular honour, the relics that he had requested of the Abbot, Giraud d’Augane who gave him twenty-four martyrs’ bodies, “as much for the glory of God as for the edification of the people of France.” Fourteen of them were given to the priory of St. Maurice de Senlis where St. Louis founded a college of fourteen Canons Regular of the order of St. Augustine, wearing the habit of the canons of St. Maurice d’Augane. The gift of the reliquary with the Holy Thorn was made to Abbot Giraud in gratitude.
The Treasure of the Abbey St. Maurice d’Augane is on loan to the Louvre from March 14 to June 16 2014, during renovations to increase the size of the display room at St. Maurice in honour of the 1500th anniversary of the abbey’s foundation. (See DICI no. 281, 28/02/14)
(Sources: Notre Dame de Paris – St. Maurice – the Louvre – DICI no. 292, 14/03/14)