At Notre-Dame de Paris are preserved and presented to the worship of the faithful the relic badges of the passion of Christ: the Holy Crown of thorns, a piece of the cross, a nail of passion.
Their long history finds its roots in the Holy land in Jerusalem. Saint John reports that the Roman soldiers, on the night of Thursday to good Friday, mocked Christ and his kingship by wearing a purple cloak and styling it with a Crown topped with thorns before crucifying it (Gospel according to St. John, chap. 19). The veneration of the instruments of the passion of Christ is mentioned in the fourth century in the tales of the pilgrims who visited Jerusalem, especially the true cross discovered by Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, shortly after the Council meeting in Nicaea in 325. Between the 7Th and 10Th centuries, these relics will be progressively transferred to Constantinople in the chapel of the Byzantine emperors to protect them from looting similar to those suffered by the Holy Sepulchre during Persian invasions. In 1238, Baudouin II of Courtenay, the Latin Emperor of Byzantium in great financial difficulty, proposed to the King of France Louis IX, future Saint Louis, to hire him the Crown of thorns, offering that he accepted. But the Regents of the Empire have already pledged the relics to Venetian bankers whom Saint Louis will compensate. On August 10, 1239, he welcomed twenty-two relics to l'archevêque. On August 19, 1239, the procession arrives in Paris, the King leaves his Royal finery, endorses a simple tunic and, barefoot, aided by his brother, carries the Holy Crown to Notre-Dame de Paris. He then built a reliquary to the extent of these relics: the Holy Chapel. During the French Revolution, the relics will be deposited at the Abbey of Saint-Denis and, without their reliquaries, at the national library. Following the Concordat of 1801, the Holy Crown was handed over to 1804, along with some other relics, to the Archbishop of Paris who assigned them to the treasure of the Cathedral on August 10, 1806. They have been kept there since then, entrusted to the canons of the chapter entrusted with their worship and placed under the statutory guard of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
The Holy Crown is, undoubtedly, the most precious and revered relics preserved in Notre-Dame de Paris: it carries over sixteen centuries of fervent prayer of Christendom. It consists of a circle of rushes gathered in bundles and held by Golden wires, with a diameter of 21 centimetres, on which were the thorns. The latter have been dispersed over the centuries by the donations made by the emperors of Byzantium and the Kings of France. There are seventy of them, of the same nature, who assert themselves as originating. Since 1896, it is preserved in a Crystal and gold tube, covered with an opened frame with a branch of zizyphus Yes Spina Christi – shrub that served the crowning of thorns. This reliquary, donated by the faithful of the Diocese of Paris, is the work of the Goldsmith M. Duelgue-Rusand (1861-1933) according to the drawings of the architect j. Astruc (1862-1950).
The fragment of the wood of the cross also comes from the one preserved in the treasure of the Sainte-Chapelle. It was taken from the destruction of the reliquary to the revolution and saved by a member of the temporary Committee of the arts who will hand it over to Notre-Dame in 1805. Preserved in a Crystal case, this fragment is 24 cm long and presents at its end a mortise intended for its installation, elements corresponding exactly to one of the crosses of the cross venerated by Saint Louis whose plans were preserved .
The nail originates in the treasure of the Holy Sepulchre. The Patriarch of Jerusalem handed it to Emperor Charlemagne in 799 with other relics of the passion. It was in Aix-la-Chapelle that King Charles II took him away to offer it to the Abbey of Saint-Denis where the faithful were able to worship him. In the French Revolution, he was also rescued by a member of the temporary Committee of the arts who retained him and handed it to the Archbishop of Paris in 1824. With a length of 9 cm, it is preserved in a nail-shaped reliquary, a simple Crystal tube adorned with a head and a Golden silver tip.
These relics are preserved today in the axis Chapel, capitular Chapel of the order of the Holy Sepulchre, deposited in a reliquary of glass evoking the mantle of purple whose Christ was clothed during his passion.
The year 2007 will also put these precious relics at the Centre of ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox: his Holiness Bartholomeos I, Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople and then His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all Russia came in turn to worship the relics.
By veneration of these relic badges, believers unite with the contemplation of the Paschal mystery which is at the source of the faith as an expression of the redeeming love of Christ who delivered his life for the salvation of the world.