It is the 3rd of May 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.
Some of you may be looking forward to Cinco de Mayo in a couple of days here, but today we commemorate the Cruces de Mayo, which marks the feast of the Holy Cross for many across the Spanish-speaking world – celebrated on this, the third of May.
Now I know what many of you may be thinking, Holy Cross Day is months away, and for those of you in Roman, Anglican, and Lutheran communions, you would be right.
But for Christians in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas, the Feast of the Finding, or Invention of the Cross, has remained a separate tradition from the multi-faceted "Holy Cross" day on September 14.
Both the May and September dates find their significance in the life and legend of St. Helena and her search for the true cross in Jerusalem in the fourth century.
These stories have been told on the Almanac before, so I will link to those episodes in the show notes. For today’s purposes, I merely want to highlight that the “finding of the holy cross” commemorates the discovery of the true cross, which, according to legend, occurred on the 3rd of May in 326.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross found its September date in its connection to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was dedicated in September 335. The Holy Cross was purportedly returned to Jerusalem around the same time in 629 after it was carried away by Persian invaders.
Now, let’s fast forward to 1960. Pope John the 23rd wanted to overhaul the General Roman Calendar to simplify the calendar of feasts. In so doing, he collapsed the May feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross and the September feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross into the Feast of the Holy Cross that occurs on September 14.
Regions, where cultural celebrations developed for the May feast seemed to disregard this change. Celebrations across Spain, part of the “Cruces de Mayo” festival, feature competitions for the most elaborately decorated cross, singing, dancing, and pop-up tapas bars hosted by Catholic brotherhoods.
As Spain colonized the new world, this feast came with it, often melding with indigenous traditions. In Peru, ancient dances accompany the parade of florally-festooned crosses, while in El Salvador and Venezuela, the timing of the feast corresponds to the beginning of the rainy season, so the feast is a chance to thank God for his blessings –– both agricultural and spiritual.
In Mexico, the feast became significant among construction workers such that many worksites across the country have a protective cross that is decorated for the occasion. When the calendar was reorganized to combine the various cross-focused feasts, bishops from Mexico appealed to Rome to keep the Feast of the Cross in May as it had attained such significance among parishioners.
Though the Roman rite has done away with this feast, millions still gather to celebrate one of the church's most significant symbols, whose finding we commemorate today on the third of May.
The last word for today comes from the first letter to the Corinthians: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of May 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
This show has been produced by Christopher Gillespie.
This show has been written and read by a woman who loves a good tapas bar – I'm Sam Leanza Ortiz.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.