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The Marvelous Origins of the Caravaca Cross

Margaret C. Galitzin
a copy of the caravaca cross

A copy of the Caravaca Cross

The Most Holy and True Cross of Caravaca is a familiar sight in the New World, brought here from Spain by the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries. In our country, it is best known in the California Missions, made popular here by the great devotion of Frey Junípero Serra to the Caravaca Cross he kept with him always.

What is its origin? Few know the history of how it miraculously appeared in Caravaca in the 13th century, carried there by two Angels, whose images appear on it today as a memorial of that marvelous episode.

From Jerusalem to Caravaca

In the year 711 the invasion and occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate started. It also marked the beginning of the glorious Reconquista, the period where the Spanish Catholics fought and re-conquered their land for Christ.

In the year 1231, a miracle occurred in the southeastern Spanish town of Caravaca. A missionary priest named Don Gínes Pérez Chirinos de Cuenca was captured and taken before the Muslim prince Ceyt Abuceyt. The Muslim chief asked him many questions about the Catholic Religion and, in particular, about the Sacrifice of the Mass.

The explanation of the priest interested him so much that he asked him to celebrate the Holy Mystery in his presence. The priest agreed and sent for the necessary articles to be brought from Concha, a town in the hands of the Catholics. The necessary items arrived but a crucifix was missing.

Painting of a priest receiving the Caravaca Cross miraculously from angels

Two angels transport the Cross from Jerusalem to Caravaca

The priest prepared to begin the Mass, but then noted in dismay that the cross was missing. He told the King that the crucifix was lacking.

"But is that not one?" Ceyt Abuceyt asked.

The chamber became flooded with brilliant light and two Angels appeared, bearing a two-armed cross that they placed on the altar.

Later it was verified that it was the same Cross – made with the wood of the Cross of Christ – that had belonged to Patriarch Robert of Jerusalem, the first Bishop of Jerusalem after the conquest of the city by the First Crusade in 1099.

The priest gave thanks to God and started the Mass. That marvelous occurrence triumphed over the infidelity of Ceyt Abuceyt. Shortly afterwards, he together with his court converted to Catholicism. This was regarded as a great victory for the Catholic Reconquista.

A powerful protection against danger & the Devil

As news of this Miraculous Crucifix spread, many persons traveled to see it and a multitude of miracles were attributed to it. It gained the reputation for healing and as being a powerful protection against dangers.

For example, in the 15th century, the town passed to the Knights Templar, who built the castle that still stands over the town today. Once, when Caravaca was under siege, the Knights Templar and townsfolk took refuge in the castle. When the water stored in the castle became contaminated, many persons fell ill.

castillo Caravaca de la Cruz

The Castle and Sanctuary of Caravaca de la Cruz

Several Knights snuck out of the castle at night to look for water but found the neighboring wells had also been poisoned. The Knights could only find some wine, which they brought in wineskins to the castle. That wine was blessed in the presence of the Caravaca Cross and served to the persons who were sick. They recovered immediately, so the wine was mixed with the undrinkable water in the storage tanks. The water became fresh and the Catholics were able to resist the enemy.

As its fame spread, a great number of copies of the Caravaca Cross were made and they also earned the reputation of being powerful protections against dangers, especially the malignant influence of the Devil. The town of Caravaca became a popular pilgrimage site as pilgrims flocked to honor the True Cross and ask for favors.

From the 14th century onward, papal bulls and decrees were issues granting special indulgences to the pilgrims of Caravaca. Soon there was hardly a family in Spain that did not have one and many persons began to wear copies of that Cross.

Decorated 'wine' horses in Caravaca

More than 100 decorated horses are run down the main street of Caravaca in the Running of the Wine Horses

The cross is called the Vera Cruz of Caravaca and the city itself became identified with the precious relic. Today it is called Caravaca de la Cruz.

Every year the city celebrates the Festivities of the Most Holy and True Cross of Caravaca from May 1 to 5. During these festival days, multitudes gather for the religious procession, popular parades of Catholics and Moors, and events like the Running of the Wine Horses, celebrating the miracle of the wine flasks that were brought into town by the Knights Templar on horses.

The Caravaca Cross came to the New World with the Jesuits and Franciscan missionaries. Fr. Junípero Serra brought a copy of the Caravaca Cross with him when he set out from Mallorca, Spain, and it remained with him during his founding of the first nine Missions in California. He kept it with him always and it was buried with him when he died. During the exhumation of Serra’s body in 1943, it was found on his chest and today can be seen in the Carmel Mission Museum.


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Posted May 14, 2018

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