Relics that are claimed to be the Holy Nails with which Christ was crucified are objects of veneration among some Christians, particularly Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. In Christian symbolism and art they figure among the Instruments of the Passion or Arma Christi, the objects associated with Jesus' Passion. Like the other Instruments the Holy Nails have become an object of veneration among many Christians and have been pictured in paintings and supposedly recovered.
The authenticity of these relics is doubtful. The Catholic Encyclopedia wrote:
Very little reliance can be placed upon the authenticity of the thirty or more holy nails which are still venerated, or which have been venerated until recent times, in such treasuries as that of Santa Croce in Rome, or those of Venice, Aachen, the Escurial, Nuremberg, Prague, etc. Probably the majority began by professing to be facsimiles which had touched or contained filings from some other nail whose claim was more ancient. Without conscious fraud on the part of anyone, it is very easy for imitations in this way to come in a very brief space of time to be reputed originals.
The bridle and helmet of Constantine
Sozomen and Theodoret reported that when Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem in the fourth century AD, the Holy Nails were recovered too. Helena left all but a few fragments of the Cross in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but returned with the nails to Constantinople. As Theodoret tells it in his Ecclesiastical History, chapter xvii:
The mother of the emperor, on learning the accomplishment of her desire, gave orders that a portion of the nails should be inserted in the royal helmet, in order that the head of her son might be preserved from the darts of his enemies. The other portion of the nails she ordered to be formed into the bridle of his horse, not only to ensure the safety of the emperor, but also to fulfil an ancient prophecy; for long before Zechariah, the prophet, had predicted that 'There shall be upon the bridles of the horses Holiness unto the Lord Almighty.
The fifth-century Church historian of Constantinople, Socrates of Constantinople wrote in his Ecclesiastical History, which was finished shortly after 439, that after Constantine was proclaimed Caesar and then Emperor, he ordered that all honor be paid to his mother Helena, to make up for the neglect paid her by her former husband, Constantius Chlorus. After her conversion to Christianity, Constantine sent her on a quest to find the cross and nails used to crucify Jesus. A Jew called Judas (in later retellings, further called Judas Cyriacus) led her to the place they were buried. Several miracles were claimed to prove the authenticy of these items, and St. Helena returned with a piece of the cross and the nails. Socrates wrote that one nail was used to make a bridle, one was used to make the Helmet of Constantine and two were cast into the Adriatic Sea.
Two relics exist that have the form of a bridle and are claimed to be the bridle of Constantine: one in the apse of the Cathedral of Milan, and the other in the cathedral treasury of Carpentras Cathedral.
One of the nails, possibly the one from the helmet of Constantine, is said to have ended up in the Iron Crown of Lombardy, although scientific analysis has found the crown to contain no iron. The band that was supposed to have been formed from a nail is actually 99% silver.
Nails venerated as those of Christ's crucifixion
- In the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome.
- In the Holy Lance of the German imperial regalia in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
- In the Iron Crown of Lombardy in the Cathedral of Monza.
- In the treasury of Trier Cathedral.
- In Bamberg Cathedral.
- In the form of a bridle, in the apse of the Cathedral of Milan (see Rito della Nivola)
- In the form of a bridle, in the cathedral treasury of Carpentras.
- In the monastery of San Nicolò l'Arena in Catania
- In the cathedral of Colle di Val d'Elsa, near Siena
- Nortia, an Etrusco-Roman goddess for whom the nail was an attribute
Notes and references
- "Holy Nails". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
- The history breaks off at 439.
- Milazzo, M.; Sardella, P. "Analisi XRF quantitativa nelle applicazioni archeometriche" (PDF). Fisica E (in Italian). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-10-16.