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Question of the Week (of the Summer!)

September 3, 2019

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“Is it true that the thorn crown worn by Jesus when he was getting crucified was held at the Notre Dame Cathedral?”

After returning from sabbatical, I found one question in the Question of the Week box. 

The short answer to this excellent question is, “Yes and no.”

400 years after Jesus death and resurrection, Christians began writing about the Crown of Thorns.  They believed it was still in Jerusalem. 

Over the years, Jerusalem became a city in which mostly Muslims lived, so Christians took the Crown of Thorns to Constantinople, a city in what is now Turkey.  Constantinople was the eastern capitol city of the old Roman Empire and the “capitol city” of the Church in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. 

But then individual thorns from the Crown began to be given away as gifts: to kings, to princesses, to famous abbeys, to the Pope in Rome, to the bishop of Paris.  These gifts are recorded in history. 

While there are records of individual thorns being given away as gifts, the Roman Emperor in Constantinople also claimed the Crown of Thorns still existed in 1238 A.D.  He had loaned it to rich people in Venice, Italy, who loaned him money in return.  The Emperor used the money to recruit an army to defend Constantinople from the Greek Christians who wanted it back.  (Why Greek Christians were fighting other Christians to get Constantinople back is another story.)  When the Roman Emperor couldn’t repay the money to get the Crown back, he arranged for the King of France to repay the money.  Which is how the Crown of Thorns ended up in France. 

The King of France built a church for the Crown of Thorns.  The Crown of Thorns was safe there until the French Revolution.  After that, the Crown was in a library for a while, but it was given back to the Roman Catholic Church in 1801.  The Church then stored it in Notre Dame Cathedral.  Which is how the Crown of Thorns ended up in Notre Dame.

However.  Once the Crown was in France, the Kings of France continued to give thorns away as gifts, so that now, no thorns remain in the Crown in Notre Dame!  According to scientists who have studied the Crown, the Crown in Notre Dame is a circle woven from a thick, grassy plant called the Baltic Rush which grows on the shores of the Baltic Sea.  Although the Catholic Encyclopedia claims scientists have proven this circle of reeds was woven by the Roman soldiers, it’s not clear why or how Roman soldiers would weave a circle from reeds that grew 3000 miles away and then stick thorns in it.

The thorns were also studied by scientists.  At least some of the individual thorns are from an evergreen plant that actually does grow in Africa, the Middle East and Jerusalem.  However.  One person who has studied the Crown of Thorns has found records for how 700 thorns were given away!  So even though some of the thorns could have come from Jerusalem, it’s not likely all 700 of them do.

Bottom line:

·         The Crown of Thorns rescued by the firefighters from the fire in Notre Dame this past April no longer has thorns and is made of reeds that grow on the shores of the Baltic Sea. 

·         Some of the 700 thorns given as gifts to powerful people and places over the years could have come from Jerusalem and could even have come from the real Crown of Thorns.

·         The long and strange and complicated story of the Crown of Thorns shows how lots of things from Jesus’ time were kept and were considered valuable:  the crown of thorns, pieces of wood from the cross, bones of the disciples, the cloth Jesus was wrapped in.  Some of these may be real.  Some probably not.

·         What is real is the value people placed on these things from Jesus’ time.  Kings gave thorns as gifts to make friends with other kings and powerful people.  Churches and abbeys wanted to have things like thorns, so people would come to visit.  The value people placed on these things made them very powerful things.

·         What is also real is that power tempts people to sin.  Some of those 700 thorns are probably not really from the original Crown of Thorns.  So some people pretended they had a thorn (they lied), so they could use the power of the thorn for themselves. 

·         With all due respect to things that Jesus may have touched or worn, Jesus and the Bible taught that real power comes from the Holy Spirit.  Which is why we say “Thine is the power” at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.  You have received the real power of the Holy Spirit in your Baptism.  The power of the Holy Spirit is the power of love (Romans 5:5).  Love is only the power we need to be good Christians.  Other kinds of power may even lead you away from God.  Keep relying on the power God gives you in your heart and mind and soul, so you can share God’s love with people who desperately need it.

Thanks for a great question!  I’ll be looking for more questions in the question box every week!

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange