Finding of the True Cross
From the eastern ambulatory a staircase descends to the chapel dedicated to St. Helena. The walls of the staircase are covered with small crosses carved over the centuries by Armenian pilgrims as testimony to their people’s devotion to the Cross.
In 327, Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, came as a pilgrim to Jerusalem and wished to search for the Holy Cross. The historical account narrates the discovery of three crosses in an ancient cistern, together with nails (one of which is incorporated in the Iron Crown kept in the Cathedral of Monza, another is in the Duomo in Milan, and a third is in Rome) and the titulus – the tablet or plaque which, at the request of Pontius Pilate, gave the reason for the condemnation in three languages (a fragment of this is kept in Rome, at the Church of the Santa Croce). A miracle allowed the Cross of Christ to be identified.
The chapel has three naves, with four columns supporting the dome, and dates back to the twelfth century; it is the property of the Armenians. Historical sources and archaeological excavations confirm that the hall was already used in some manner as part of Constantine’s project.
The chapel is adorned with hanging lamps, in the Armenian style. From the Armenian Chapel of St. Helena one descends to the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross, where each year on 7 May the discovery of the Holy Cross is commemorated, with the relic of the wood of the Cross of Christ being carried in procession by the Franciscan Father Custos to the point where, according to tradition, it was found.