It will be the 74th commemoration and for that reason this post is dedicated to the reason behind why all this takes place. Do you want to hear about it? Well then, here we tell you the story of the “Lignum Crucis”.
In order to understand what we are talking about, the first thing off the bat is to explain is what is the Lignum Crucis? Well, in Christianity it is the name given to the “wood of the cross” or “wood of the True Cross” upon on which Jesus Christ died; and, therefore, to any fragment from the so-called True Cross discovered by St. Helena between 325 and 327 at Golgotha in Jerusalem.
A piece of this cross is found in the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, in fact, the largest surviving piece of those existing. But how did a piece of the True Cross end up in Liébana? To understand this we have hark back to the 4th century. Specifically around the year 327 when St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine the Great (the Roman emperor who declared freedom of worship), decided to travel to the Holy Land to search for the Holy Cross upon which Christ died.
There are various versions as to how the Holy Cross was found after several excavations on Mount Calvary. Ancient writers such as St. Chrysostom and St. Ambrose narrated, that three crosses were found on that mountain. And in order to identify which of these crosses was that of Jesus (the true cross), a dying woman was taken to Mount Calvary, and when she touched two of the crosses, her health deteriorated. But with the third cross, the sick woman recovered instantly.
St. Helena ordered the discovery to be divided into three parts, one of which remained in Jerusalem, one would go to Rome and the other to Constantinople. Furthermore, at the site of the discovery and enormous temple was constructed, the so-called Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where the relic which remained in Jerusalem was kept.
Some time later, in the 5th century and after selling his possessions, a priest called Turibius of Astorga moved to Jerusalem and was appointed Major Sacristan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the church ordered to be constructed by St. Helena in its day) and this is the beginning of the pilgrimage of the Lignum Crucis to Liébana.
St. Turibius of Astorga was the custodian of the relics of Jesus Christ throughout his stay in Jerusalem and it was he who, with the Pope’s permission, brought a piece of the True Cross to Astorga, the city of which he later became Bishop. There he kept the Lignum Crucis in safekeeping until his death.
Later, the relic was taken to Liébana by Christians fleeing the Muslim invasion which was occurring in the northern Iberian Peninsula. In this flee the remains of St. Turibius were also taken.
The Lignum Crucis was brought to the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana in the 8th century, during the reign of Alfonso I of Asturias, son of the Duke of Cantabria. And so it remained, with the relic in Cantabria, until the Middle Ages, a period in which it was common to gift a piece of the relic in payment for certain favours reason why the left arm of the safeguarded Cross began to shrink in size.
The Benedictine monks residing in the monastery, seeing that there would be no more relic if the practice continued, serrated the wood and where it was assembled in the form of a cross (embedded in a gilt silver reliquary, with fleury ends of a Gothic style) and placed in a closed and sealed location where no one could have access to it. The dimensions of the holy wood were as follows: the vertical bar is 635 mm and the crossbar is 393 mm, and a thickness of 38 mm. According to these measurements, it is the largest known surviving relic of the cross of Christ, even larger than the relic kept in St. Peter’s in the Vatican. This is the Lignum Crucis that we know and venerate today in Santo Toribio de Liébana (Cantabria).
And how is it known that this piece of wood corresponds to the Cross on which Jesus Christ died in a scientific manner? That is thanks to a scientific analysis carried out by the Forestry Institute of Research and Experimentation of Madrid, concluded that the relic is made from wood from a species of tree from Palestine and dates back the time of Jesus Christ. It likewise determined that the botanical species of the wood of the Lignum Crucis is Cupressus Sempervivens L a variety of cypress tree native to Palestine and more than 2,000 years old. The DNA of this relic has also served to authenticate the origin of the other preserved fragments.
Just as the first pilgrims did, a visit to the Lignum Crucis in the Monastery of Santo Toribio is a must. In the Middle Ages it was inconceivable to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela without visiting Santo Toribio, without passing through Liébana. This location was, in itself, a site of pilgrimage, with its own identity, due to the healing and miraculous powers attributed to the remains of the Saint of Astorga (the one venerated as St. Turibius) and to the Relic itself.
Some of these pilgrims ended their journey here, but many others continued on to Santiago. There were several routes from Liébana to Santiago, each different, each one with its own particular character. Whether crossing the Picos de Europa, taking the Northern Way or via the Vadiniense Route, all roads led to Santiago, but not before arriving at Santo Toribio de Liébana.
On 23 September 1512, Pope Julius II granted the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana the privilege of celebrating its own Jubilee Year, recognising the importance of this relic. In doing so, he made the Monastery one of the 5 Holy Cities of Christianity (besides Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Caravaca de la Cruz), entitled to celebrate a Jubilee Holy Year every time St. Turibius’s Feast Day falls on a Sunday, for that day and the following seven days (only eight days in total in that particular year). However in 1967 it was changed and, instead of 8 days, it was granted for the entire year when the Jubilee could be gained.
This April 16, 2023 the Door of Forgiveness will be opened once again, the perfect time to discover the star of this post. Doing the Lebaniego Way through its 3 stages and 72 kilometres, from San Vicente de la Barquera to Santo Toribio de Liébana, is one of the not to be missed plans for 2023.
The requirements to obtain the “Jubilee grace” once the Door of Forgiveness (plenary indulgence) is opened, or in other words, obtain the forgiveness or atonement of all sins are: to pray, to confess and to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass which is held at 12 noon in the Monastery of Santo Toribio on every day of the entire Liébana Jubilee Year.
Shall we be seeing you in Liébana then? Cantabria, more waiting to be discovered.