The Crown of Thorns

Notre Dame de Paris 75004

Here’s another semi Paris secret involving Jesus I bet you didn’t know existed, and even if you aren’t religious- it still has some pretty rad historical significance.. Religion is super mystical right? Virgin births, turning water into wine, defying gravity and walking on water. It’s like Harry Potter but with genocide, miracles, and war. Whether you are god fearing or not, if you are a history enthusiast- you gotta respect the ole holy trinity. After all, history and religion go together like sketchy massage parlors and happy endings amiright?

About a month before the fire at Notre Dame, I found myself in the holy-mother-of-GOD of all lines, trying to get in like a 3rd armadillo wanting to get on Noah’s arc. It was 2:15 and the Vénération de la Couronne d’épines (The Veneration of the Crown of Thorns) was starting in 45 minutes.

Wait, the crown of thorns? Like from Jesus?

Yes the very one. It’s in Paris apparently, not far from Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower. And at 3pm each first Friday of every month, (and every Friday during Lent) you can come to Notre Dame and kiss it during a special ceremony. Pretty rad huh?But is it the realio dealio? Let me give you the history and timeline of the most famous crown ever worn. Prior to coming to Paris, the only religious relic I had ever heard about was the Shroud of Turin, and I was baffled to learn the crown of thorns even still existed.

We all know how it started. Jesus, nailed to a cross- is crowned with a helmet of thorns by three Roman soldiers (if hell exists, you know these assholes are being barbequed for eternity) mocking him as King of the Jews. He is crucified. Dies. Then resurrected.

But what happens to the crown after that and how did it wind up in the city of lights?

If we go off the modern calendar. Jesus is born 0 AD (that’s latin for anno domini, or “in the year of our lord”) and dies around 33 AD. That’s 1,98y years ago. Not that long ago if we look at the big picture here.

The first evidence we have of its existence is a heavily filtered instagram photo posted by @TheGospelGangsta in 400 AD. Er, no that can’t be right. The earliest written reference of it is made in 409 by St. Paulinus of Nola, who notes that there is a veneration of the crown of thorns in Jerusalem in 409 A.D. A christian pilgrim also writes about it still being in Jerusalem in 870. It is transferred to Constantine (Istanbul today) around 1063 to be housed along with other religious relics for pilgrims.

So there are only about a few hundred years span there where the crown’s whereabouts aren’t accounted for. Unfortunately for Constatine, the Emporer Baldwin II finds himself short of cash, and sells the crown to France’s King Louis IX in 1238. King Louis, who is pious AF (eventually he would be given the title Saint to add to King) enters Paris on August 19, 1239 wearing only Calvin Klein boxer briefs,a simple shroud, and the crown of thorns on his head. (Pretentious much?) He brings it to Notre Dame, which is still in the early phases of construction, to be kept until his reliquary, the Sainte-Chapelle, a royal gothic chapelle you can visit in Paris today, is finished in 1248.

The Crown of Thorns is kept there until the French Revolution 1789, where it is then transferred to the Cathedral Saint Denis, followed by the French National Library. It is given back to the Notre Dame in 1801 and put in the treasury there, where it is still kept today.

So aside from a few hundred years, the evidence to its existence and legitimacy is pretty solid IMO. It’s also interested to note that the actual thorns from the crown (allegedly from the Jujube tree) have been dispersed as holy relics and more than 200 are floating around all over the world.

So when I finally entered Notre Dame, I found a seat and waited for the parade to begin. Necks arched as the Holy Team walked up the center aisle, with the crown held on a red satin pillow and encased in a clear, probably bullet proof container, which was covered in gold bling. The Top Chef holding it was surrounded by a team of Priest and Nuns (who were so serious and stern looking they must have been packing heat under their robes).

Other than this, the whole ceremony was just like any other catholic mass. When it came time to the actual veneration, they led people pew by pew to line up in front of the crown. Everyone had their turn to kiss it, touch it, gently headbutt it, whatever. They wiped off the crown between each person. It took a longgg time for my pew, which was maybe 15 rows back, to line up. Taking pictures was STRICTLY forbidden. I found myself getting kind of nervous when my turn came close.

What did I want to do? Kissing it seemed weird. And I wasn’t sure if I should do the signing of the cross after. I ended up giving myself a second or two just to look at it. My academic scientific training- which consists mostly of 2 weeks high school biology before I dropped out; determined it was definitely an old tree branch. I looked into the eye of the priest holding it for some sort of reaction, like he could read my soul and sense my hesitation. I wanted him to say “have no fear my child” or at least give me a wink, but he just looked bored and like he wanted a cold beer. (it was stifling hot)

So I awkwardly kneeled and touched it with my forehead, before throwing out a sign of the cross I’m pretty sure was in the wrong order of holy spirits. (left to right, or right to left?) But no one cared or excommunicated me from the church while banishing me to hell.

Did I really touch something that actually touched Jesus? If so, what does it mean? I don’t know but I left Notre Dame feeling pretty damn HOLY that day. I can’t wait for when the cathedral is restored and I can go back for this.

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