Oddly enough, the immense majority of Parisians are totally unaware that Christ’s crown of thorns, considered to be Christianity’s second most important relic after the Holy Shroud of Turin, is presented in Notre-Dame cathedral once a month for veneration by the faithful.
Contrary to common belief, the nearby Saint-Chapelle no longer has any relics: the other objects related to Christ’s Passion (a nail and a fragment of the Cross itself) are also at Notre-Dame.
Each first Friday of the month, in an atmosphere of profound devotion, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre perform the duty of displaying the sacred crown to the crowd of worshippers. If most of those gathered are tourists who are blithely indifferent to the occasion, the fervour of the few Parisians present is impressive: when their turn comes to kiss the relic, it is by no means to see tears of emotion roll down their cheeks.
The first allusion to this holy relic dates from the year 409, when Saint Paulinus of Nola mentions it as one of the relics at the Mount Zion basilica in Jerusalem. Transferred to Byzantium to preserve them from being pillaged by the forces of the Persian Empire, the relics were then sold to the Venetians in 1238 by the Latin emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin II, who was experiencing financial difficulties. The French king Saint Louis (1126-1270) purchased them in 1239 and ordered the construction of a suitable chapel in Paris to house them: the Saint-Chapelle (some of the stained glass windows in the Chapelle depict this event). After the Revolution, however, the relics were entrusted to the canons of the Notre-Dame chapter.
In the 19th century, two reliquaries were built to house the crown of thorns, one commissioned by Napoleon I and the other by Napoleon III. They now lay empty, but are on display in the cathedral treasury (open to the public daily, 9.00-18.00, except Sunday mornings). The authenticity of the relics is of course difficult to prove, although on the one occasion when the reliquary in which they now reside was actually opened, in 1940, it was observed that while the leaves were dried up , the ring of braided rushes was still green!
Notre-Dame de Paris
Place du Parvis
Tel: 01 42 34 56 10
Every first Friday of the month and Fridays during Lent, 15.00-16.00, and Good Friday 10.00-17.00.
Paris méconnu, Editions Jonglez
A priest who blesses animals, wine-producing firemen, a tree in a church, an atomic bomb shelter under the Gare de l’Est, a Chinese temple in a parking lot…
For those who thought they know Paris well, the city is still teeming with unusual and secret places that are easily accessible.