Largest Known Relic of the True Cross in Santo Toribio, Spain

Notes for a Pilgrimage to Santo Toribio, Spain

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The monastery here two miles south of Potes is in an area called Liébana (translated as Lebanon in English) at the foothills of the Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe, Spain’s largest national park) which are really a continuation of the Pyrenees. Benedictine monks founded the monastery here during the sixth century. Beato, one of the monks in the middle of the eighth century, wrote a commentary on the Book of Apocalypse with illustrations and you may see copies of the illustrations on the walls of the cloister. The present church was built in 1256. The side chapel containing the largest known relic of the True Cross, the Lignum Crucis, was built at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

How did this most precious relic end up here? St. Toribio lived for some time in Jerusalem and was the custodian and guardian of the relics there. Fearing the profanation of the relics at the onset of Persian persecution he transferred the relics first to Rome and then to Spain. The relic was in the Cathedral of Astorga where Toribio was bishop. During invasions of Spain in the eighth century the relic was transferred here to Liébana during the reign of King Alfonso I. The remains of St. Toribio of Astorga were also transferred here at the same time. (The Sudarium also had to be hidden during this time). The chronicles of the Benedictine order state that this relic is from the left branch of the True Cross discovered by St. Elena, the mother of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. The relic is in the gold plated cross behind the altar, it is in the upright position in the cross, you may see it through the glass. The hole from the nail can be plainly seen. In 1958 the wood was scientifically analyzed in Madrid and discovered to be extraordinarily old, the wood is Cupressus Sempervivens L. Whenever the feast of St. Toribio on April 16th falls on a Sunday it is a Jubilee Year here in the church and pilgrims fulfilling the usual requirements may gain the indulgence by visiting here that year. This Jubilee occurs every 6, 5, 6 and 11 years (similar to the Jubilee in Santiago de Compostela when the feast of St James on July 25th falls on a Sunday).

There is an ancient custom in the surrounding villages whereby two men from each village come to the monastery here to pray in the church and venerate the relic on a fixed day of the week according to agreement. They depart their village at midnight and walk all night, sometimes barefooted to reach the monastery at dawn. The tradition continues and is regulated by the local town councils and the monastery. In the program of the monastery you will see that the special Mass for this custom called La Vez is on Fridays at 11:00am from June to September (2003).

The veneration of this relic here has been accompanied by many signs and graces from heaven. Fr. Antonio de Yepes, in his Chronicles of the Benedictine Order, states, “If one had to count all the successive miracles, they would fill an entire tract…” Many people have testified to having received big graces praying in front of the relic of the True Cross here in Santo Toribio. As we venerate the cross here, we do so in a spirit of sorrow for our sins and asking graces for our lives that we may better represent Jesus in the world.

This was delivered when I was Spiritual Director for a pilgrimage while engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Homilies on the Passion of Jesus

The Passion of Jesus moves us to Repentance

The Passion of Jesus shows us up as sinners and heals us

Jesus’ Sufferings Revealed by the Turin Shroud

The Sudarium, the Face-Cloth of Christ

Gethsemane and crucifixion

my meditation on The Seven Last Words of Jesus in Let's Talk to Jesus

The Miraculous Crucifix in Limpias

Do you love me?

Lamb of God

St Margaret of York, Eucharistic Martyr, martyred on Good Friday