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Holy Wood

A piece of wood many believe to have come from the manger in which the Christ child lay after his birth in Bethlehem is being sent back there for the Christmas season. The fragment, once kept at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, will be housed at Saint Catherine’s Church, next to the Church of the Nativity, which is believed to sit atop the spot where Jesus was born. The Vatican came into possession of the fragment in the 7th Century AD.

I don’t question the fragment’s value as an historic artifact, but I don’t believe it actually came from the manger. All these supposed relics can possibly be traced back to the time of Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, whom he sent to the Holy Land in 326 AD specifically for the purpose of finding them. She supposedly found pieces of the True Cross, or the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, as well as the nails used to do it, and identified the places where he was born, crucified, and was buried. I have my doubts about all of these, but about the wooden fragments I am most skeptical of all. We’re talking at the least 300 years that had passed before St. Helena arrived on the scene. These would have been regarded merely as pieces of scrap wood—the people at the time the events took place would not have seen any reason to venerate them—and for scrap wood to hold up for over three centuries unprotected would have required a miracle.

The True Cross got passed around a lot during the Crusades, ending up in the hands of Saladin and, according to some legends, the Knights Templar. There are still quite a few splinters of it, like the alleged fragment of the manger, still extant today.

TheCheezman • December 24, 2019

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