A Heritage of Holy Wood: The Legend of the True Cross in Text and Image


In the fourth century the idea arose that the Cross on which Christ was crucified had been found by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. Thus began a legend that would grow and flourish throughout the Middle Ages and cause the diffusion of countless splinters of holy wood. And where there is wood, there was once a tree. Could it be that the Cross was made from that most noble species, the Tree of Life? So, gathering characters along the way, the legend evolved into a tale that stretches from the Creation to the End of Time.
A Heritage of Holy Wood is the first reconstruction of the iconographic and literary tradition of the Legend of the True Cross. Its broad scope encompasses relic cults, pilgrimages, travellers’ tales and the Tree of Life and involves Church Fathers, crusader kings, Teutonic Knights and mendicant orders, all of which influenced the legend’s depiction from its earliest representation in manuscripts, reliquaries and altarpieces, to the great monumental cycles of the high Middle Ages. If the holy wood was the medium of medieval memory, A Heritage of Holy Wood reveals the growth rings of fifteen centuries of imagery.

Biographical Note

Barbara Baert, Ph.D. (1997) in History of Art, Catholic University of Leuven, is Professor of Medieval History of Art at the Catholic University of Leuven. She published on the Legend of the True Cross, holy places in Jerusalem, Image-Theory of the Middle Ages, such as the True Face of Christ and gender issues in Iconology, such as Mary Magdalene.

Table of contents

Foreword Preface Acknowledgements List of Figures List of Diagrams List of Tables Introduction 1. Helena and the Jews. The Legend of the Finding of the Cross Constantine the Great, the cross, and the Inventio crucis The Judas Cyriacus legend 2. The Finding of the Cross in Carolingian and Romanesque art The iconographic roots. Identity and diversity The Meuse region and Rhineland in the twelfth century. Expansion and enhancement 3. Heraclius and the Persians. The Legend of the Exaltation of the Cross Exaltatio crucis. Worldviews in conflict Heraclius as exemplar. Loci sancti, crusades and pilgrimage 4. The spreading of the Finding and Exaltation of the Cross in the late Middle Ages The Legenda Aurea Northern Germany and the Teutonic Order. Between Tempzin and Marienwerder Southern Germany and the Danube basin. Nuremberg, insignia of state and new iconographic formulas The Netherlands. A periphery? 5. From Paradise to Golgotha. The Legend of the Wood of the Cross Between typologia and narratio Seth and the return to Paradise The Queen of Sheba, the sibyl and the Wood of the Cross 6. The monumental programmes of the Legend of the Cross in Italy, Germany and Switzerland (1388–ca. 1495) Italy. Tradition and innovation North of the Alps. Neglected and diverse Conclusion Epilogue Colour Plates Bibliography Photographic Acknowledgements Index of Works Index of Names


All those interested in the venerations of relics, the history of Legend, the patristics, the history of art and imageries in the West and the East, as well as all philologists, theologians and specialists in Jewish Reception History and Lore during the Middle Ages.