Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Crown of Thorns
In Christianity, the Crown of Thorns, one of the instruments of the Passion, was the woven chaplet of thorn branches worn by Jesus before his crucifixion. It is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (27:29), Mark (15:17), and John (19:2, 5) and is often alluded to by the early Christian Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others.
- "Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man !"
Few writers of the first six centuries A.D. speak of it as a relic known to be still in existence and venerated by the faithful. There are exceptions: St. Paulinus of Nola, writing after 409, refers to "the thorns with which Our Saviour was crowned" as relics held in honour along with the Cross to which he was nailed and the pillar at which he was scourged (Ep. ad Macar. in Migne, P. L., LXI, 407). Cassiodorus (c. 570), when commenting on Psalm lxxxvi, speaks of the Crown of Thorns among the other relics which are the glory of the earthly Jerusalem. "There", he says, "we may behold the thorny crown, which was only set upon the head of Our Redeemer in order that all the thorns of the world might be gathered together and broken" (Migne, LXX, 621). When Gregory of Tours in De gloriâ martyri (in Monument Germaniae Historica: Scriptores Merov.", I, 492) avers that the thorns in the Crown still looked green, a freshness which was miraculously renewed each day, he does not much strengthen the historical authenticity of a relic he had not seen, but the Breviarius, and the itinerary of Antoninus of Piacenza (6th century) clearly state that the Crown of Thorns was currently shown in the church on Mount Zion (Geyer, Itinera Hierosolymitana, 154 and 174). From these fragments of evidence and others of later date-- the "Pilgrimage" of the monk Bernard shows that the relic was still at Mount Sion in 870-- it is likely that what purported to be the Crown of Thorns was venerated at Jerusalem from the 5th century for several hundred years.
Francois de Mély supposed that the whole Crown was not transferred to Byzantium until about 1063. In any case Justinian (died in 565) is stated to have given a thorn to St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, which was long preserved at Saint-Germain-des-Prés , while the Empress Irene, in 798 or 802, sent Charlemagne several thorns which were deposited by him at Aachen. Eight of these are said to have been there at the consecration of the basilica of Aachen by Pope Leo III. The presence of the Pope at the consecration is a later legend, but the relics apparently were there, for the subsequent history of several of them can be traced without difficulty. Four were given to Saint-Corneille of Compiègne in 877 by Charles the Bald. One was sent to the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan in 927, on the occasion of certain marriage negotiations, and eventually found its way to Malmesbury Abbey. Another was presented to a Spanish princess about 1160, and again another was taken to Andechs in Germany in the year 1200.
In 1238 Baldwin II, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, anxious to obtain support for his tottering empire, offered the Crown of Thorns to St. Louis, King of France. It was then actually in the hands of the Venetians as security for a heavy loan, but it was redeemed and conveyed to Paris where St. Louis built the Sainte-Chapelle (completed 1248) for its reception. The relic remained there until the French Revolution, when, after finding a home for a while in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Concordat of 1801 restored it to the Church, and it was deposited in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. However the relic that the Church received is a twisted coronet of rushes. New reliquaries were provided for the relic, one commissioned by Napoleon, another, in jewelled rock crystal and more suitably Gothic, made to the designs of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. In 2001, when the surviving treasures from the Sainte-Chapelle were exhibited among treasures from the Sainte-Chapelle at the Louvre across the Seine, the chaplet was solemnly presented every Friday at Notre Dame. Pope John Paul II translated in personally to the Sainte-Chapelle during the World Youth Days.
The Catholic Encyclopedia asserted "Authorities are agreed that a sort of helmet of thorns must have been platted by the Roman soldiers, this band of rushes being employed to hold the thorns together. It seems likely according to M. De Mély, that already at the time when the circlet was brought to Paris the sixty or seventy thorns, which seem to have been afterwards distributed by St. Louis and his successors, had been separated from the band of rushes and were kept in a different reliquary. None of these now remain at Paris. Some small fragments of rush are also preserved ... at Arras and at Lyons. With regard to the origin and character of the thorns, both tradition and existing remains suggest that they must have come from the bush botanically known as Zizyphus spina Christi, more popularly, the jujube tree . This reaches the height of fifteen or twenty feet and is found growing in abundance by the wayside around Jerusalem. The crooked branches of this shrub are armed with thorns growing in pairs, a straight spine and a curved one commonly occurring together at each point. The relic preserved in the Capella della Spina at Pisa, as well as that at Trier, which though their early history is doubtful and obscure, are among the largest in size, afford a good illustration of this peculiarity."
Not all of the reputed holy thorns are authentic. M. de Mély was able to enumerate more than 700 such relics. The statement in one medieval obituary that Peter de Averio gave to the cathedral of Angers "unam de spinis quae fuit apposita coronae spinae nostri Redemptoris" ("one of the spines which were touched to the thorny crown of our Redeemer") (de Mély, p. 362), meaning seemingly a thorn which has touched the real Crown of Thorns, throws a flood of light upon the probable origin of many such relics. Again, even in comparatively modern times it is not always easy to trace the history of these objects of devotion, which were often divided and thus multiplied.
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) reported two "holy thorns" were venerated, the one at St. Michael's church in Ghent, the other at Stonyhurst College, both professing to be the thorn given by Mary Queen of Scots to Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland (see "The Month", April, 1882, 540-556).
More recently, a website "Gazeteer of Relics and Miraculous Images lists the following, following Cruz 1984:
- Belgium: Parochial Church of Weverlgham: a portion of the Crown of Thorns
- Belgium: Ghent, St. Michael's Church: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
- France: Nôtre Dame de Paris: a portion of the Crown of Thorns, now devoid of thorns, displayed once a year on Good Friday
- Germany:Cathedral of Trier: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
- Italy: Rome, Chuch of Santa Croce in Jerusalem: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
- Italy: Rome, Church of Santa Prassede: a small portion of the Crown of Thorns
- Italy: Pisa, Spedali Riuniti di Santa Chiara: a Branch with Thorns from the Crown of Thorns
- Spain: Oviedo Cathedral: five thorns (formerly eight) from the Crown of Thorns
- Spain: Barcelona Cathedral: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
- United Kingdon: Stanbrook Abbey, Worcester: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
- United Kingdom: Stoneyhurst College, Lancashire: a Thorn from the Crown of Thorns
Crown of Thorns iconography
The appearance of the Crown of Thorns in art, notably upon the head of Christ in representations of the Crucifixion or the subject Ecce Homo arises after the time of St. Louis and the building of the Sainte-Chapelle. The Catholic Encyclopedia reported that some archaeologists had professed to discover a figure of the Crown of Thorns in the circle which sometimes surrounds the chi-rho emblem on early Christian sarcophagi, but the compilers considered that it seemed to be quite as probable that this was only meant for a laurel wreath .
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