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tv   Finding Jesus Faith Fact Forgery  CNN  April 4, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT

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the true cross. the actual cross that jesus of nazareth was crucified on. wood, infused with his blood and tears. >> it is literally the scaffolding upon which jesus saved the world. >> but the relic was thought to be lost to history. then a roman empress, helena, sets off on a dramatic quest to find it. >> helena changed everything. >> the discovery of the cross is shrouded in mystery. there is intrigue. there's murder. there's sex. there's violence behind all of this.
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>> her discovery will be hacked into tiny pieces and traded around the globe. venerated by millions, ridiculed by others. >> i don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that helena discovered the true cross. >> now for the first time, modern science sets out to answer the question, is the true cross a hoax that mocks the crucifixion or the relic of relics? >> the true cross is one of the greatest mysteries in christian history. we have the tools to solve it. ♪ ♪
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♪ the cross. an object of savage torture. >> that cross was an instrument of death, pieces of wood nailed together to kill a human being. >> but also an object of deepest veneration. >> the cross in which jesus died really symbolizes for me the greatest act of love in human history. >> the cross remains hugely powerful because jesus survives the cross. he doesn't just die an ignominious, shameful death, but rises to new life. >> the cross is now the ultimate symbol of christianity, adorning
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vast cathedrals and houses of worship the world over. but in some churches, they have crosses said to be made out of the actual wood jesus died on. the true cross. >> the true cross is surely the most important object in christian history. >> to touch a piece of the true cross is the opportunity to reach across time and space in human history and grasp something that changed the world. >> to the churches that hold them, fragments of the true cross are a miraculous link to the son of god. but could these relics possibly be real, and where do they come from? according to church tradition, 300 years after the execution of jesus of nazareth, the mother of the roman emperor constantine,
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empress helena, arrives in jerusalem. >> she is arguably one of the most revered women of antiquity and of all time. >> she has come to lead a dramatic excavation on the site of christ's crucifixion. >> she has been called the first archaeologist. she is said to have personally discovered the most sacred symbol in christianity, the true cross. the cross on which jesus was crucified. ♪ ♪ >> the story of helena puts her at the heart of the story of the christian faith.
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>> helena is said to have broken up the cross and sent it throughout the roman empire. but as the legend grew, so did the number of relics. there are now more than 1,000 scattered around the world. >> they're in trinkets, they are in necklace amulets, embedded underneath altars, and so there is a good bit of skepticism about relics such as these. >> one of the first people to publicly question the authenticity of the true cross was the 16th century profit assistant reformer john calvin. >> he says you can't walk into a church anywhere without seeing a piece of what's supposedly the true cross. >> calvin laughs and says you know, if you took all the pieces of the true cross and put them together, they would fill a ship. >> yet scripture says that just
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one man, jesus, was able to carry it on his shoulders. >> there were a lot of people who were speaking out about the devotion of relics as something which is absurd and disgusting. and that really thought that people had lost touch with the true faith. >> the true cross had the power to divide christianity. and the question remained, could the legend be real? high in the cantabrian mountains of northern spain lies the monastery of -- the home of the largest and most revered piece of helena's discovery. dr. georges kazan is an archaeologist here to investigate the mystery of the true cross. >> what's at stake here is the truth about the origins of this relic. is it something that dates back
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from the time of christ? this relic is said to have been brought in the fifth century from jerusalem by a monk called toribio. and this relic is enormous by the standards of relics of the cross. there's not many relics that are anything like this size. there's a little window here where you can actually touch the wood itself. unfortunately, we can't open up this relic and take this wood with us or subject it to any sort of exampling. -- sort of sampling. however, what i'd really like to do is to get something like it into a proper laboratory environment where we can explore it further. >> to help him in his search, dr. kazan's starting point is a fascinating project by a 19th century french architect named charles rohault de fleury. he set out to add all the pieces
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of the true cross. >> this map shows the places which he documented as having wood of the cross. and he worked out that all of this wood from all the places that he had been to didn't come up to 10% of the total volume needed to put up a cross of the size required to crucify christ. if de fleury is right, calvin must be wrong. >> now kazan will use de fleury's map to help locate relics that his team can then carbon date. >> we would want to find relics subjecting these two scientific analyses to see just how much of the legend might be true. >> dr. kazan's hunt for churches that will grant him access to the true cross will take him around the world. but the story of helena's quest to find the cross is one of the most dramatic in christian
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>> when helena herself went to the holy land, nobody's ever done this before. >> she is likely to have left from rome. to reach jerusalem is almost 2,000 miles over land. >> for an elderly lady in her 70s at this point, this journey is an enormous undertaking. >> it is so unbelievably far away, in the american context, if new york is rome, jerusalem is something like guam or american samoa. >> but by all accounts, helena is a remarkable woman. >> we know only a couple of things about the empress helena. we know that she was christian. and we know that she was a commoner. >> and yet she gets together with a traveling roman and gives birth to the man who will one
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day become emperor of rome. >> since its creation in 27 b.c., the roman empire has been ruled by pagans. then in 312 a.d., helena's son, constantine, has a dramatic change of faith. >> the story goes that on the eve of a great battle outside rome, he has a vision. >> he sees a cross of light in the sky. and he hears a voice that tells him by this, you will conquer. he takes it to mean that by the symbol of the cross and by christianity, he's going to become the lone emperor and the supreme figure in the known world. >> he wins the battle and becomes the first christian emperor. >> christianity is very much a minority cult, practiced by only about 10% of the population, if
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that. >> it's almost impossible to underestimate the impact of constantine's conversion to christianity. before that, the empire had been persecuting its christians. >> it was illegal by the penalty of death to be a christian. after that, you were free. >> constantine legalizes christianity throughout the empire. 14 years later, his mother is on her way to the holy land. >> i think that she was sent by the emperor constantine. he felt that the cross was very important, and he wanted to send her there to do something special.
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there is potentially a darker side to helena's journey. it follows on from a scandalous episode within the house of constantine. >> constantine abandoned his first wife to marry the noble woman fausta. fausta has given him three young sons. but her husband's likely successor is his eldest son, crispus. >> crispus was the golden boy of the constantinian household. he had a very successful military career. he had been made caesar by his father. >> on the face of it, the christian family at the center of the roman empire are united. but a scandal is about to erupt. >> christian sources tend to hush-hush about it. they don't want to say anything.
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but the pagan sources jump all over constantine. the story goes that constantine discovers that his son crispus, his favorite son, has been having an affair with constantine's second wife fausta. >> what we're told by the sources we have is that on the orders of his father, he is sent to the coast of croatia. and he is put to death by poison.
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>> helena was crushed by this scandal. this was likely her favorite grandson. >> this must have been devastating for her. >> but the scandal is about to get bigger. >> constantine discovers, from back channels, that perhaps fausta had manufactured all of this, that she favored her own sons for the throne and that she set crispus up to be murdered. he orders that she be put in a back chamber, the doors locked and the fires stoked to the point that it cooks her to death.
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>> as the self-proclaimed christian emperor, he's engaged in the sin of murder. thou shalt not kill is one of the top commandments. constantine will have thought of helena as his great ally, thinking that he can rely on his mother's support in anything. perhaps he should have thought again before he killed her grandson. >> you are weak. you are a weak and sinful man.
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>> the murder of fausta and of crispus happens in 326. helena departs for the holy land in 327. there's almost certainly some connection between those two events. >> if you're his mother, hoping for his soul to be saved somehow, you're going to want to make a passionate gesture of reconciliation, of penitence. ♪ ♪ >> she knew what she wanted when she traveled to jerusalem. and when she went looking for that true cross, she was surely determined to find it. ♪
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in 327 a.d., helena begins a pioneering mission in the holy land. according to christian tradition, she has come to find the cross jesus died on. >> helena was doing something actually at the time quite radical in the history of christianity. she wants to hold in her hands something that has been close to jesus.
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>> her pilgrimage could chank the course of christian history. >> but the site of christ's passion is no more. jerusalem is now an outpost of the roman empire, renamed aelia capitolina. >> when helena entered the city of jerusalem, it's likely to have been a shell of its former glorious self from the earliest first century a.d. >> you have to realize that ancient cities are absolutely chaotic. >> we can imagine that she's sort of overwhelmed by the tangible reality of life in the ancient world. it was full of sounds and noises. and it was dirty. >> jerusalem is now a pagan city. 200 years before, a jewish uprising was crushed by rome. >> jews were banned from
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jerusalem. and in observance of jewish law was prohibited by the romans. >> helena will be the first person to try and retrace the final footsteps of christ. >> here you have a woman who stands in the pinnacle of power. and understands what power looks like. it, to me, is fascinating that a person from that vantage point would see jesus as the one worthy of her life, her allegiance, and her worship. >> this was a way of getting in closer to really understanding the bible and to really entering into the story of jesus. >> there was something about knowing that he actually walked here, that he talked here, where she's standing.
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you realize that this is not just a myth. jerusalem is not a made-up city. jesus is not a made-up person. it's an incredibly powerful experience. ♪ ♪ >> according to all four gospels, roman soldiers marched jesus of nazareth to a hill called golgotha, the place of the skull. a place so evil, few who saw it
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could ever forget it. but 300 years have passed. jerusalem is now a very different place. >> the question is how could helena find it? well, it really takes us back to the year 135 a.d. when the emperor hadrian, builds a pagan temple over the site and ends up marking for all posterity the place of his death. >> the year before helena's son, the emperor constantine, ordered the temple be torn down. >> it wasn't his policy to destroy all of them, but that temple was the very antithesis of what christians thought christ was about. >> the account of what happened next is recorded in a later church history.
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>> at some point, perhaps as early as the 360s, we begin to see a legend emerge that describes helena's role in the finding of the true cross. >> which hold helena personally with her own bare hands removes some of the earth and uncovers three wooden crosses jumbled together. >> when she came across what she thought was that relic, one can only imagine the emotions that welled up inside of her. ♪ ♪
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>> the reality is that we don't know precisely what happened in jerusalem. and my own personal belief is that helena found something that she believed to be the true cross.
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according to christian history, 300 years after the crucifixion of christ, helena, the empress of rome, discovers the actual cross jesus died on. >> from the moment that the cross is found, people become interested in having a piece of the wood itself. because of its direct connection to the body of christ. >> legend says helena divides the cross into pieces. >> i imagine when helena broke up the cross, it was such a desire for her to take it with her. to be able to share this tangible representation of her savior, of her lord. ♪ ♪
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>> sometime later, pieces of the true cross start appearing throughout the roman empire. >> our first evidence that fragments of the cross are being spread around the mediterranean is from the late 340s and 350s when we learn that people have taken pieces of the true cross over to the north african seaboard. >> if the tradition is correct, then that would only have been 20 years or so since its first finding that shows that physical particles of the true cross actually did spread out from jerusalem very, very early on. >> there must have been the discovery of wood by helena or someone for this trade in relics to have really boomed. >> this really becomes a new moment for christianity in which the cross becomes something that they are no longer afraid to talk about or to signify.
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>> before the cross is basically a symbol of defeat, a symbol of humiliation, a symbol of death, people were familiar with the horrors of roman crucifixion. >> the cross is an instrument of capital punishment. and it's quite amazing. it's one of the big stories of early christianity that the instrument of the execution and torture of jesus christ, over time, becomes the primary symbol of jesus christ. >> one of the key factors in the change is helena's pilgrimage to find the true cross. it changes the cross to something that actually becomes something tangible that people
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want to think about as part of their devotion. >> as fragments spread around the world, they will also help turn christianity from an underground cult into a global religion. >> pieces of the true cross were almost used like trading cards. this was a way to gain favor with a bishop here or an aristocrat, a prince over there. >> if you share the true cross with someone, you are sharing power with them because the true cross is a source of religious power. people are going to respect you for having a piece of this. >> the legend of helena's discovery would change the course of christian history. but could what she found have been the actual cross jesus died on? now the modern-day investigation into the true cross is gathering pace. the city of waterford is the
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oldest city in ireland. it boasts a long history of christianity. and a museum. that holds an important relic of the true cross. >> what's fascinating is that it is said to have been given directly by the pope to the king of ireland and rome as we know had access to relics from jerusalem. >> archaeologist georges kazan is joined by scientist tom higham. he is also from oxford will put the relic to the test. >> for the first time in history, we're able to place these relics in their proper time and proper date. >> the waterford cross is on loan to the medieval museum from the roman catholic archdiocese. and museum curator eamon has security their permission to test it. >> it's just inside this. >> is that a modern script or an ancient script?
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>> no, it's a 12th century script. it says a piece of the wood of the true cross, and it was given to the king by the pope in 1110. >> so we can date it at least back to 1110. >> the cross is believed to be cedar wood. and since its arrival in ireland, it has been carved up further to share with different churches. >> you can see it quite plainly here on the back. >> oh, wow. >> again you can see a sample was taken from here. >> what kind of information do you have to say that this cross may have come from jerusalem? >> well, to my knowledge, cedar wood certainly wasn't available in ireland in the 12th century. it had to come from the middle east somewhere, from lebanon or israel. >> but could this be from first century jerusalem? the time has come to find out. i.
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this museum in waterford, ireland, claims to hold a piece of the actual cross that crucified jesus. the true cross, a relic said to have been discovered by the empress helena 300 years after christ's death.
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800 years after that, the pope would give this piece of it to the king of ireland. >> when the pope gives you a relic of the true cross, he's almost saying, you know, you're a real king. you've got that legitimacy. you've got that power. >> for the first time in history, a prized relic of the true cross will be carbon dated. professor tom higham has over 20 years' experience. >> there's quite a lot of what looks like lacquer that's across the top of the wood. and lacquer will have a different radial carbon concentration, probably to the age of the wood. but unfortunately pieces of the material have been taken, and that exposes the actual wood. so that's a good place for us to take the sample from. >> the procedure should leave little perceptible trace of damage, in theory. but it's a nerve-racking business. >> i'm just going to take a small bit from here. >> yes, tom, the smallest possible one.
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very small piece. >> we only need about ten milligrams. >> that's equivalent to a few grains of salt. but this relic has been venerated here for almost 1,000 years. every speck counts. >> it's very, very hard, this wood. >> could that mean anything to do with its age? >> i mean, it actually looks old. it looks aged. so far, so good. >> tom is satisfied with his sample. now they can head back to the lab to test for the first time this piece of the true cross. eighth century before the waterford cross arrived in ireland, helena will continue
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her tour of the holy land. and with the backing of her son, the emperor constantine, she will transform the landscape. she builds churches on the site of christ's birth in bethlehem. and one to commemorate his last moments on earth. >> constantine made it legal to practice christianity. helena gave christians places to practice christianity. before her arrival, there were no christian buildings in this land. christians met here on the mount of olives to commemorate jesus's ascension, but they met secretly, we're told, in caves. after helena, a structure is built on this site, and christians can come here publicly and openly to remember this important part of their
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faith. >> for a religion that had been illegal for over 200 years, it's a defining moment. >> she makes the holy land holy. and the churches that she built are ways of literally cementing in the ground christianity in the holy land. >> it reinstates it as the place where people want to go and remember jesus's passion. >> arguably helena and constantine's biggest contribution to jerusalem is the church of the holy sepulcher said to be built on the site they believed was golgotha, the place where jesus was executed. but did they get the location right?
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>> based on the archaeological evidence, this would be a logical place. it was just outside the city walls. and romans liked that for crucifixion. so right now there's no better candidate than right here. >> the church has been rebuilt several times. but its core goes back to the 4th century. ♪ ♪ >> we are deep, deep inside the lowest level of the church of the holy sepulcher. and this is the place where tradition says helena found the true cross.
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>> after her tour of the holy land, helena begins the long journey home. but did she do so as legend says with a piece of the cross jesus died on? dr. georges kazan heads into the lab to carbon date for the first time a relic of the true cross to find out once and for all. a. i mean, come on. national gives me the control to choose any car in the aisle i want. i could choose you... or i could choose her if i like her more. and i do. oh, the silent treatment. real mature. so you wanna get out of here?
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in 328 a.d., the empress helena returned to rome from the holy land. according to church history, her pilgrimage to find the cross that jesus died on is complete. but her triumph will be short-lived. >> helena dies shortly after returning from the holy land. >> it's incredible to think about the power of this one woman's spiritual drive and the impact that it's had on human history. >> her influence upon her son, constantine, will change the
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fate of the roman empire and the fate of christianity. >> a decade after her death, her son, constantine, now an old man, falls ill. after a lifetime of championing the cause of christianity, he takes the final step and asks to be baptized. >> there was so much of constantine's life that didn't line up with being a christian. when he killed so many people and he was just a violent man, but something i believe changed in the last year of his life. i think he had a full conversion. >> in 337 a.d., constantine the great, as he will come to be
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known, dies. >> with constantine and helena, what we're seeing is christianity moving out of the shadows into the mainstream, but now into the dominant position. it's not just a religion. it's the religion. now the roman empire's going to be christian. the known world's going to be christian. >> but the question remains, did helena actually discover the cross jesus was crucified on? at the oxford university radiocarbon accelerator lab, archaeologist dr. georges kazan and professor tom higham are about to take a step closer to solving this mystery. by carbon dating a fragment of the true cross given to the king of ireland by the pope. in 1100 a.d.
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>> the true cross is the most important relic. so to have it tested in this way which could reveal that the story that's potentially true is fascinating. >> this is the first time we've actually, to our knowledge, directly dated a piece of the true cross. >> radiocarbon is a complex method involving a series of stages. the first of which is to preclean and pretreat the sample to remove any contaminating carbon that could thwart the -- that could alter the result. in the final stage of the process is the accelerator which enables us to measure individual particles of carbon 14. the more radiocarbon there is, the more recent the sample. and the less radiocarbon, the older it is. we can date anything from the present day back to about 50,000 years ago.
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>> in less than 20 minutes, they may solve an enigma that dates back 2,000 years. >> this should just about be finished now. let's just have a look and see what we can see. >> could the waterford cross be part of the cross helena is said to have discovered? >> let's just have a look and see what the result is. we can see that here. >> this relic of the true cross dates from 1100 a.d. >> that's not the age of the true cross. >> okay. maybe around 1100. >> it's not the date they were hoping for. but it does reveal the relic's rich history. >> it's very interesting because it seems to match in with the date of the script on the back of the reliquary. this is a time when the cross, the symbol of the cross, and the relic of the cross were exceptionally important for the
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spread of christianity. so the fact that this relic was created around that time goes to support how important that phenomenon was. >> for hundreds of years after the legend of helena's discovery, the true cross continued to play a central role in the story of christianity. and though this relic is only 1,000 years old, others may prove far older. >> this is the first step in a long journey to investigate more relics of this type and see if any could go back as far as the time of helena or even the time of christ. >> at the church of the holy sepulcher in jerusalem, they continue to celebrate helena's discovery of the true cross. in a church she built, in a city she reclaimed. >> helena is the person who
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takes jerusalem from a sleepy provincial capital and turns it into this place that we're all looking to for a spiritual message. >> for centuries, devoted pilgrims have come here to mark their faith. with a symbol now recognized the world over. >> at the time of jesus, a cross was a very negative image. it was a place of brutal, horrible execution and death. but after constantine and helena, the cross becomes a symbol of salvation, a contact with the transcendent. >> without the story of the discovery of the true cross, helena would be just another empress in the pantheon of emphasis. -- in the pantheon of empresses. but this story places her at the
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heart of the christian faith. she gives christianity a symbol without which christianity would not be the religion that it is. jesus christ. he changed the course of world history. yet the most famous man ever to live left no physical trace. or did he? more than a thousand years pass and a cloth appears in europe. on its surface, the image of a man showing the same traumas jesus endured during his crucifixion. the shroud of turin.


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