What kind of tree provided wood for the cross on which Jesus was crucified? The answer dates back to back to Abraham, who was well on in years when three staff-carrying angels ventured into his tent. After predicting that Sarah would become pregnant despite her advanced age they continued on their way, leaving their staves behind them.
Lot took his task seriously. Each morning he went with his donkey to the Jordan River and, laden with holy water, he returned to the fertile valley in which he had planted the staves. Eventually they combined into a special triple-crested tree.
Much later, this singular tree was chopped down to make beams for Solomon’s Temple. But the beams were either too long, too short, or their ends curled up when put into place. Solomon’s workers cursed the beams, and cast them aside.
The monastery was constructed around the site of the tree stump from which the holy cross was fashioned and until the 15th century, it is said, pilgrims could actually view the cut-off trunk. Nothing remains of the tree, for those early pilgrims cut pieces off with axes that they brought with them to the church. Now, all that remains is a decorative disk with a hole in the middle – although underneath the disk you can see, quite clearly, the space between the stones that surrounded the tree.
According to legend, a thousand years later the ill-fated beams were rediscovered, and used to fashion Jesus’s cross. Centuries later, when the Persians invaded Jerusalem in 614, they plundered the holy sites and carried off the cross. The cross was recovered a decade later by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who crushed the Persians in a series of brilliant campaigns. Tradition holds that on his way back to the crucifixion site, to which he would return the cross, he stayed overnight in a secluded valley several kilometers west of Jerusalem – today known as the Valley of the Cross. As he slept, the holy cross rested next to the stump of the tree that had furnished its wood. More