"I have seen many other fragments of the cross, in other churches. If all were genuine, our Lord's torment could not have been on a coupe of planks nailed together, but on an entire forest."—Brother William, The Name of the Rose
In the 4th century, the mother of Emperor Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, took a tour of Jerusalem in search of relics that would confirm the historical validity of her son's new religion. One of her prized finds was believed to be the headboard from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Noted in the Gospel accounts, this mocking slab of wood was engraved on orders from Pontius Pilate, then allegedly stashed away for generations.
Quest for the True Cross examines the claims of the Church of Santa Croce in Rome, where a surviving fragments of this titulus cruces remains on display. The Vatican refuses to allow scientific analysis (still burned by the revelation, thanks to carbon dating, that the Shroud of Turin is a medieval fake) of the relic. After all, it is still a matter of faith.
The medieval Church was crazy for relics. As Brother William of Baskerville points out in Umberto Eco's historical novel The Name of the Rose, one cathedral even claimed to own the skull of John the Baptist at the age of twelve (don't ask where the skull is that he used after that age). It did not matter that such relics belied all logic. It was all a matter of faith.
One believer in the authenticity of the titulus is Professor Carsten Thiede, who offers viewers textual evidence, if not forensic analysis, that he claims confirms the relic's validity. An articulate Oxford Biblical historian provides a more objective view, understanding that without real rigorous testing, any speculation about the titulus has about as much scientific truth-value as a book by Erich Von Daniken. And without much to fill space after that, Quest for the True Cross spends much of its 50 minute running time telling the story of Constantine and his mother Helena.
Even without much to say, this documentary from the Discovery Channel seems to run forever. It moves with a glacial pace, perhaps weighed down by the gravity that only religious subjects seem to bring when translated to documentary form. And Discovery provides no extra content—maps, timelines, nor anything else—that might help those interested in examining this subject as history. Instead, we get a vaguely interesting story about Constantine and the establishment of the early Church, told with remarkably little enthusiasm. And that's about it. Even true believers are likely to find Quest for the True Cross a big waste of time.
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