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It is my understanding that there was a relic, used by the Crusaders, that was claimed to be the very Cross on which Jesus was crucified. I also understand that sometime around 1187, it was captured by Muslims, and subsequently burned. What is the history behind this relic, and if it was believed to be something as important as the true cross, what on earth possessed them to do something as crazy as risk it in battle?

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I think that speculative question is much better. If you ever find a doctrine that explains exactly why people do crazy things that's more subtle than just "people are crazy", be sure and ping me. – Caleb Apr 29 '12 at 21:27
Just saying... The story of St Helen is extremely dubious, a: that it even existed 300 years later, and b: how conveniently Cnstantine's mum was so good at finding relics, at just the time that Constantine was trying to bolster Christianity. You would have to be pretty "accepting" to assume the story as recorded. And going around "I have open access to the treasury: do you have relics?". Methinks: someone got played here ... Either St Helen, Constantine, or (more likely) the population. – Marc Gravell Apr 30 '12 at 7:26
@MarcGravell I have no doubt that it is dubious. Relics as a whole are dubious. Regardless, however, people believed that these were the genuine artifacts. I just can't imagine going into battle with "the Declaration of Independence" Its potential loss as an historic artifact would be a crime against history! – Affable Geek Apr 30 '12 at 12:47
We still have fragments of it... thought it seems, not quite all of it. I would imagine the Crusaders did not have the cross.. there was a tradition of dubious relics in some places, particular suspect are 'whole' relics, as many relics were divided up and spread around for liturgical use. – user304 Apr 30 '12 at 18:35
up vote 1 down vote accepted

About "doing crazy thing as risking in battle" - do you think Israelites were crazy for risking the Ark of the Covenant in battle?

About the history of finding of the Precious and Livegiving Cross - look here for the narration about Saint Helen

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It's worth noting, as above, that relics were often fragmented and spread around so that others could benefit from them. At the very least, they had probably been chipping bits off the cross and sending them as gifts - eventually there was a lot of parts of that 'weapon of peace' as we call it, spread all over the world. – user304 May 1 '12 at 2:46

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