Raiders of the Lost Past

The Quest for the True Cross

Series 1 - Episode 13 The Quest for the True Cross



Relics have been an important part of the Christian story ever since Emperor Constantine sent his mother to the Holy Land in the fourth century to bring back concrete evidence of Jesus’s life and death. But did Helena actually locate the cross on which Christ was crucified and bring a fragment – the titulus crucis – to Rome, where it remains today in the church of Santa Croce?

Historian Michael Hesemann believes so, and has spent years investigating the path this piece of wood (inscribed with the name of Jesus of Nazareth) has taken. But not everyone agrees; can faith trump science?


The quest by German historian Michael Hesemann to ascertain the authenticity of the Titulus Crucis, a small piece of wood that is claimed to be a fragment of the headboard of Christ's cross, with lettering referring to Jesus. The object is housed in Rome, but records of its existence only go back as far as the late 1400s, and in 2002 a carbon dating procedure suggested it was a medieval fake. However, Hesemann believed those tests to have been flawed.