The Exaltation of the Cross

Bibliographic Information


Medieval Title: 

“Exaltatio Crucis”, or “The Exaltation of the Cross”






Narrative first began circulating in 7th century CE (Baert 133)

The acts of the 8th-century CE Georgian martyrs David and Constantine refer to the Cross relic as the real reason for the conflict depicted between the Roman Emperor Heraclius and the Persian Emperor Chosroes II; this connection was reaffirmed by the Arabic chronicler Tabari (839-923 CE) (Baert 139-40)

A homily by Hrabanus Maurus (780-856CE) is the earliest evidence of the narrative’s circulation in the west (Baert140)

There are many versions in multiple languages but the only version we have found that depicts the Cross being pillaged from Jerusalem by a Persian emperor who is explicitly depicted as Muslim is the Middle English verse version found in London, British Library, Harley 4196, which is the version described in this catalogue entry



Textual Information

Brief Summary:

“Chodroas”, king of Persia attacks Jerusalem, destroying Christians and their churches, and travels to the holy sepulchre to destroy Jesus’s grave. Here, however, a feeling of fear deters him and he decides instead to seize the relic of the Holy Cross enshrined in Jerusalem and take it to his court. He builds a silver tower, decorated within with “precius stanes.” He ensures that the room is like ” a hevyn,” so it rains and whistling sounds emulate angels’ song. He then enthrones the Cross and himself side by side, orders men to call him a god, and resigns the operation of his empire to his son. This son leads an army (“a grete cumpani of sarzins”) against the Christian emperor Heraclius, who defeats Chodroas’s son and converts that army to Christianity. Heraclius leads his men to Chodroas’s throne room and, impressed by the reverence Chodroas has shown the Cross , offers to let him live and retain his kingdom if he will convert to Christianity. Chodroas refuses and Heraclius beheads him. Heraclius and his army then lead the Cross back to Jerusalem. When they reach the gates of Jerusalem (the same ones through which Christ entered), the gates slam shut such that they are like a wall of stone with no evidence of a possible entryway. The Christians pray to God and an angel appears to remind them of the humble entrance Christ made into Jerusalem in poor clothes, sitting on an ass. Heraclius dismounts from his horse, casts away his rich clothing and crown, and enters the city barefoot, carrying the Cross in his own arms. The Cross is re-established in Jerusalem and many miracles occur.


Relics Appearing in Text:

True Cross


Manuscripts, Editions, and Translations


London, British Library, MS Harley 4196

  • the Exaltation appears within the sanctorale section of the expanded Northern Homily Cycle found in the manuscript.

List of Editions of the Medieval Text: 

“Exaltatio Crucis.” In Legends of the Holy Rood: Symbols of the Passion and Cross Poems in Old English of the Eleventh, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries. Edited by Richard Morris. EETS 46, 122-30. London: N. Trubner & Co, 1871.

Available online:

List of Translations of the Medieval Text: 




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