The Lignum Crucis of Santo Toribio de Liebana – the largest known piece of the True Cross of Jesus Christ

Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana, Camaleño, Španija

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The Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liebana

In the heart of the area of Liébana, about 2 kms southbound from the main town called Potes and half-hidden among the orographical folds of La Viorna Mountain, at the foothills of The Picos de Europa (range of mountains), is the place where Toribio (530-540) and some Benedictine monks chose to build thier home and seclude themselves from the world at the beginning of the Christian Era.

Santo Toribio de Liebana

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The Lignum Crucis at Santo Toribio de Liebana – the True Cross of Jesus Christ

Tradition relates it with the origin of the monastery, but it is most likely to have been brought at the same time as the remains of Santo Toribio de Astorga, around 8th century.

According to P. Sandoval, chronicler of the Benedictine Order, this relic is a piece of the left branch of the True Cross, which the Saint Helen (the Emperor Constantine’s mother, in the 4th century) left in Jerusalem when she discovered Jesus Christ’ and the Tieves’ crosses.

The piece was serrated and it appears in the upward-cross position so that the sacred hole where Christ’s hand was nailed can be fully seen. The piece is embedded in a gold-plated cross with lily-shaped drawings of a Gothic style made in a workshop of Valladolid in 1679.

The vertical pole of the Lignum Crucis is 63,5 mm. long and the crosspiece 39,3 mm., with both a thickness of 38mm. This is the largest known piece of the True Cross, even larger than the one preserved in The Vatican. 

A scientific analysis of the wood determined that the Lignum Crucis was made of Cupressus Sempervivens L., confirming it was an extraordinary old wood, which therefore can prove nothing against the age claimed.

The Chapel of the Lignum Crucis

The Chapel was built at the beginning of the 18th century by Francisco Gómez de Otero y Cossío (1640-1714), born in the nearby village of Turieno where his native home can still be seen, inquisitor in Madrid and archbishop of Santa Fe de Bogotá (Colombia). Francisco’s praying statue upstands on top of a stone tomb next to the altar.

The extraordinayr quality of the carving made in the stony ceiling of the dome is quite remarkable. The evangelist appear amidst exuberant decoration of garlands and little Cupids, symbolic elements that are repeated in the lantern along with signs of Passion and heraldic motives.

The side room which shelters the Lignum Crucis was designed by Fr. Pedro Martínez de Cardeña around 1705. There are several sculptures of Our Holy Fathers, apostles and saints in the niches (on the walls), though some of them belong to a modern time.

History of Santo Toribio de Liebana

After the Muslim invassion in the year 711 and the quick conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the Christians who were defending the Spanish-Visig. state withdrew towards the northern mountains and there they resisted successfully in many battles such as those in Covadonga (722) or Cosgaya, victories which made them feel confident about heir stregth and marked the beginning of the Reconquest.

The Asturian Kingdom was then established with Don Pelayo as their king, succeeded by Alfonso I, son of Don Pelayo’s fellow mate the Duke Pedro of Cantabria an married to Don Pelayo’s daughter Ermesinda.

This king of Cantabrian blood organized and peopled the Valley of Liébana with Christians from the northern part of the Meseta in order to create a strategical empty space which could act as a barrier against the Muslims along the River Duero Valley.

Among the people who came there were many monks that settled down in the region, raising several monasteries such as San Martín de Turieno, which would eventually turn into Santo Toribio de Liebana.

It is tho this place where the rests of the Bishop Toribio of Astorga and the relic of the Lignum Crucis was brought, quite possibly towards the half of the 8th century. According to tradition the bishop had brought the relic from Jerusalem to be preserved within the Christian territory in a safe place such as this monastery

The Lignum Crucis

Tradition relates it with the origin of the monastery, but it is most likely to have been brought at the same time as the remains of Santo Toribio de Astorga, around 8th century. According to P. Sandoval, chronicler of the Benedictine Order, this relic is a piece of the left branch of the True Cross, which the Saint Elena (the Emperor Constantine’s mother, in the 4th century) left in Jerusalem when she discovered Jesuschrist and the Tieves’ crosses.

The piece was serrated and it appears in the upward-cross position so that the sacred hole where Christ’s hand was nailed can be fully seen. The piece is embedded in a gold-plated cross with lily-shaped drawings of a Gothic style made in a workshop of Valladolid in 1679. The vertical pole of the Lignum Crucis is 635mm. long and the crosspiece 393mm., with both a thickness of 38mm.. This is the largest known piece of the True Cross, even larger than the one preserved in The Vatican. A scientific analysis of the wood determined that the Lignum Crucis was made of Cupressus Sempervivens L., confirming it was an extraordinary old wood, which therefore can prove nothing against the age claimed.

Cantabria, in the north of Spain, covers an area of 5,289 square kilometres between the mountains of the Cordillera Cantabrica and the Cantabrian Sea.

Its boundaries are defined by: the Cantabrian Sea in the north, the Principality of Asturias in the west, Palencia and Burgos (Castilla And León) in the south and Vizcaya (part of the self-governing region of the Basque Country) in the east.

It boasts a good transport network, by land, air and sea.

Cantabria can be reached by road via four main routes:
. N-634 -the A-road which runs east to west across the province (leading from Vizcaya, through Torrelevega, to Asturias)
. N-611 -access from Palencia
. N-623 -access from Burgos/Madrid
. Autovia del Cantabrico -runs parallel to the N-634

Santander Airport
www.aena.es

RENFE Railway Station
www.renfe.es

FEVE Railway Station
www.feve.es

The REGINAS.
www.losreginas.com

Coach Station
www.santandereabus.com

The Jubilee

The sacred relic of the Lignum Crucis, the largest known piece of the True Cross, has been worshipped perhaps since its arrival in the 8th century. However, it was not until the beginning of 16th century when, according to tradition, the Popes Julio II and Leon X definitely ratified the Jubilee, with plenary indulgence for the years in which St. Toribio’s day falls on a Sunday (16 April), extending the grace to the following seven days. That is why La Puerta del Perdón (The Forgiveness Door) was built at the time and opens during the Jubilee’s Year. The worship of this holy relic was truly outstanding all throughout the Baroque period, particulary during the Jubilee’s years.

In 1967 the Pope Pablo VI extended that privilege to every day of the year and since then the afluence of pilgrims and public in general who attend this monastery on the Jubilee’s years have been extraordinary.

SANTA CRUZ’S BROTHERHOOD

Santa Cruz’s Brotherhood was founded in 1181, pioneered by the Bishops of Leon, Burgos and Oviedo, perhaps to support economically the monastery, which was then in full decline.

Originally called Santo Toribio, the brotherhood took the name of Santa Cruz from the 16th century onwards due to the institution of the Jubilee and the importance the relic’s cult was achieving. The date of celebration was fixed on 3 May in commemoration of the discovery of the Holy Cross.

Six active members of the brotherhood must attend the procession of the Lignum Crucis and carry the pallium and the sanctuary lamp of the company.

“LA VEZ” DE SANTO TORIBIO

It is about an ancestral custom created by pious parishioners, perhaps as a consequence of a vow or a promise to the Monastery of Santo Toribio. In this custom two men from each village must come to the monastery of Santo Toribio, pary in the church and worship the True Cross on a fixed day of the week according to the turn (“La Vez”) pre-established among all the villages in Liébana. They used to come without any breakfast, leaving thier villages at mignight, and walk, sometimes barefooted, all night long to reach the Monastery of Santo Toribio at dawn.

This tradition is still kept and regulated by the town councils themselves and the Monastery of Santo Toribio.

The Building

The first structure of the Monastery of Santo Toribio was surely a simple one, within the Pre-Romanic style, perhaps an Asturian or Mozarabic type. During the X and XI centuries lots of monasteries had spread along the valleys of Liébana. The present church was built in 1256, with the parishioners’ economic support, favoured by indulgences offered to such an end by the bishop Fernando. The temple follows the monastic Gothic style of the Cisterciense-type, clear lines and spaces and the ornamental sobriety that characterizes the architecture followed by the San Bernardo Order. It has a tree-polygonal abses head and a three-nave body of a similar height.

All the vaults are of a cross-ribbed type and some of them have reinforcing ribs. The limited decoration is centred on the capitals. The ones in the main apse have figurative decoration with human heads and animals such as the bull and the bear, which according to the legend helped Saint Toribio to build the church. In this same apse it is worshipped the image of Our Lady of the Angels, dating form the 16th century. The lying statue of Santo Toribio is kept in the Gospell apse. It is carved in elm wood from Burgos and it is said to have been in the monastery since at least 1316. It preserves its original polychromy.

The southern façade with the two doorways outstands from the exterior. The biggest is the main one, which ends in a pointed arch surrounded by archivolts that lie on capitals with symbolic displays referring to the Sacraments. The second porch, called the Forgiveness door, stands towards the right, embedded, next to a buttress. It opens solemnly on the Jubilee. At the foot of the building there is a tower with bells and in the interior we find the choir. The decadence of the monastery stars during the modern age when numerous churches of the area which so far had dependen on the monastery were changed into parish churches. Hence its monastic life definitely ended with La Desamortización de Mendizábal (sale of church lands) in 1837.

In 1961, after the restoration of the ruinous building, a community of Franciscans took charge of the monastery – they still do, reminding us of the tradition that alludes to San Francisco as a visitor of Santo Toribio (the monastery) in his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The pointed arches in the porch, next to the abses in the temple, give way to the monastic cloister, built in the 17th century following the Herrerian guidelines, where an admirable Jesús Otero’s relief represents Beato at his scriptorium (desk).

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