The True Cross and the Imperial World

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray. Now above the cross, the trophy, Sound the loud triumphant lay; Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day.

Venantius Fortunatus, "Pange, lingua"

Following the conversion of the Roman Empire to the Christian faith in 312 A.D., the theological symbolism of the cross was wed to the political and military grammar of Rome. In the newly Christianized empire, the sign of the cross took on the dimensions of a mystical talisman, radiating the awesome power of God, enabling its possessor to vanquish whole armies through its spiritual force. So forcibly did the symbol of the cross impress itself upon Constantine’s mother, Helena, that she sought and allegedly recovered the True Cross. Legend has it that nails from this cross were placed in Constantine’s helmet and on the bridle of his horse and pieces of the cross were set in the statue of Constantine I at Constantinople. More than just a symbol of the Empire’s religious affiliations, the cross exerted a palpable power in this world, a force capable of routing enemies and protecting cities.
Canadian Heritage Information Network, The Provincial Museum of Alberta,
Art Gallery of Ontario, Gandhi Memorial Museum, Malcove Collection, University of Toronto, Musée de la civilisation,

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans