First published November 2, 2015
While I tend to keep my religion and spirituality to myself, I do not preach, nor do I tell others what they should believe or not believe, it is something that should come from within you, within your heart and through your soul. Something one needs to experience on their own, you cannot force spirituality, it happens truly by an awakening and acceptance of a greater power, an acceptance of God and Jesus Christ into your life. As I grew up going to the region of the Liébana Valley in Spain, being Roman Catholic, not truly understanding the importance or value or the history of that area or religion for that matter, I was always taken by my grandfather, father or a family member to the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana.
The Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana is a Roman Catholic monastery located in the district of, Liébana near Potes in Cantabria, Spain. Located in the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain, the monastery is one of the five places of Christianity that, together with Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Caravaca de la Cruz, has the privilege of perpetual indulgences. It is about 10 kilometers from the village of Perrozo where our family home in the mountains is.
Every year I have spent in the Valley of Liébana I had what now I realize is the true honor of attending the ceremonies of kissing the exposed piece of the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on. I cannot explain to you the feeling or the sensation that astounds and takes my breath away each and every time I have this opportunity. I realize in the realm of this large world, I am truly one of a few percent that have had this honor and privilege and one I have learned not to take lightly. In doing my research for a book on the Liébana Valley, I learned so much more about this magnificent relic and the religious history, wars, kings, places, many prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.
The monastery was founded prior to the 6th century. According to tradition, the monastery venerates that largest piece of the Lignum Crucis (The True Cross) discovered in Jerusalem by Saint Helena of Constantinople. Brought from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by Saint Turibius of Astorga, the left arm of the True Cross is kept on a gilded silver reliquary. The monastery was initially dedicated to St. Martin of Tours but its name was changed in the 12th century. On April 16, 1961, the Franciscan friars, Custodians of the Holy Places, were entrusted with the relic’s safekeeping and with the promotion of the devotion to the Holy Cross.
My recent trip last week to Spain I went for a long weekend with my aunt Fina Sainz Amoros to not only solidify and photograph some images for a project regarding our family history, but through a cherished friend Jesus Potes, it was made possible to have the cross privately removed from its amazingly ornate vault. I purchased 3 crosses from the Monastery shop. I laid each cross on top of the exposed piece of wood which upon Jesus was crucified. I said a personal prayer, kissed the cross and then had 2 of the crosses blessed by the priest who graciously did this intimate favor for me.
I will forever be grateful for this opportunity. The 2 blessed crosses, are for:
My Best friend who I so happened to miss during her visit here to Orlando, Kelly Ledbetter Stephens. She has supported me, prayed for me, and given me hope and strength, with that said, she in return needs the same, I do my best as her friend to give that to her. She is strong even when she feels weak, she is beautiful, she is a survivor and she carries Jesus in her heart where ever she goes. What she has endured in her lifetime should be a lesson to all of us, we can prevail. So Kelly Ledbetter Stephens my beautiful friend, this one is for you…
Kelly and Diana 3/2013 My Best friend who I so happened to miss during her visit here to Orlando, Kelly Ledbetter Stephens. She has supported me, prayed for me, and given me hope and strength, with that said, she in return needs the same, I do my best as her friend to give that to her. She is strong even when she feels weak, she is beautiful, she is a survivor and she carries Jesus in her heart where ever she goes. What she has endured in her lifetime should be a lesson to all of us, we can prevail. So Kelly Ledbetter Stephens my beautiful friend, this one is for you…
The largest surviving piece of the True Cross
The second cross I purchased is for a VERY VERY DEAR friend of mine, Rissa Dodson From the moment we met on November 13, 2009 through a mutual friend, Scot Porter, we became instant friends. We were attending a concert at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California to watch Cy Curnin – whom we LOVE and ADORE (Lead of The Fixx) play with Nick Harper for the Love Hope Strength Cancer Foundation. is NOW the world’s leading rock and roll cancer foundation.
Scot and Rissa, “the culprits” and I decided to continue our stalking of Cy and Nick and attend the second concert the next day in Corona, California at the Fender Museum… So on November 14, 2009, where were we, YUP, front and center table stalking Cy and Nick, but also for a great cause. Know there were a few other stalking moments over the years, but this is how my friendship with Rissa began. I took her on her first photo safari to the raunchiest place, out in the desert, but photographer’s paradise after she purchased her first camera and asking me to give her pointers (an honor when someone asks me).
Nick Harper, Rissa Dodson, Cy Curnin, Diana sainz and Scot Porter
About a month ago, my sweet friend, Rissa Dodson (younger than me) was diagnosed with Colon Cancer. The irony, we met at a concert to benefit cancer awareness, and now my friend whom I cherish is facing this horrible disease and is in for the fight! You got this Rissa!!!
The picture below is the cross I purchased for Rissa, laid on top of the exposed piece of wood from the left arm of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. A healing blessing was said for her, and that she may conquer this challenge and live a full and happy long life. (Especially so that we may continue to stalk Cy Curnin (The Fixx), Dave Wakeling (The English Beat and for you old folks like me, Dave was the cutie pie from General Public in the 80’s) and most importantly Mike Peters of the The Alarm who started Love Hope Strength because he had cancer.
The True Cross ~ The largest surviving piece of the True Cross.
The True Cross, largest known existing piece upon which Jesus was crucified, it is the left arm of the cross, you can see a hole in the cross from the nail that was drive through Jesus’ hand and into the wood.
According to tradition, this relic is part of the True Cross that the Empress Saint Helena unearthed in Jerusalem. From there, Saint Turibius of Astorga, Custodian of the Holy Places, took it to the cathedral of his hometown in Astorga, Spain, where he was soon made bishop. When the Moors invaded Spain in 711, the relic was hidden along with others in a fold on Mount Viorna in the Liébana Valley, next to St. Turibius’ relics. Both relics were eventually transferred to the monastery that immediately became an important place to be visited by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Documents dated 1507 state that, “since time immemorial” the Jubilee is celebrated every time the saint’s feast-day falls on a Sunday.
Fr. Sandoval, chronicler of the Benedictine order, wrote that this relic is the “left arm of the Holy Cross. It was sawed and assembled in the form of a cross, leaving intact the hole where was nailed down the hand of Christ”. The vertical bar is 635 millimeters (25.0 in) long and the crossbar is 393 millimeters (15.5 in) long. The cross has a thickness of 38 millimeters (1.5 in). It is the largest preserved relic of the True Cross.
The wood was embedded in a Gothic silver gilded cross, manufactured by a workshop of Valladolid in 1679. It lies in a housing of golden wood in a baroque, domed, early 18th-century chapel in the north wall of the church, looked over by an effigy of the chapel’s founder, Francisco de Cosío y Otero (1640–1715), Grand Inquisitor of Madrid and later Archbishop of Bogotá in Colombia, who was born locally.
In 1817 Ignacio Ramón de Roda, Bishop of León, went to the monastery and asked permission of the prior of the Benedictine monks to remove a portion of the Cross. Two pieces of wood arranged in the form of a cross in a reliquary were given to Don Joachim and Don Felix Columbus, descendants of Christopher Columbus, for the chapel of their family castle in Asturias. In 1909 Terry and Mathilde Boal inherited and imported to their American estate the chapel of the Columbus family, including an admiral’s desk that belonged to the famous explorer himself. They brought from Spain to Boalsburg, the entrance door and the whole interior of the Columbus Chapel with the relic of the True Cross.
In 1958 a scientific investigation carried out by Madrid’s Forestry Research Institute, concluded that the relic is of a Mediterranean Cypress wood (Cupressus sempervirens), very common in Palestine, and could be older than 2,000 years.
Inside the side room where the vault is kept
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.
The relic is in the gold plated cross behind the altar, it is in the upright position in the cross, you may see it through the glass. The hole from the nail can be plainly seen. In 1958 the wood was scientifically analyzed in Madrid and discovered to be extraordinarily old, the wood is Cupressus Semperviven L.. (Cypress Sempervivens L.)
The veneration of this relic here has been accompanied by many signs and graces from heaven. Fr. Antonio de Yepes, in his Chronicles of the Benedictine Order, states, “If one had to count all the successive miracles, they would fill an entire tract…” Many people have testified to having received big graces praying in front of the relic of the True Cross here in Santo Toribio. As we venerate the cross here, we do so in a spirit of sorrow for our sins and asking graces for our lives that we may better represent Jesus in the world.
The Vault, gilted gold, ornate, absolutely gorgeous and ornate.
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 up stands on top of a stone tomb next to the altar.
The most important building is the Gothic church, whose construction began in 1256, though it has been remodeled several times since. It is built on the site of a Pre-Romanesque and a Romanesque building (perhaps Asturian or Mozarabic in style). It has the clarity of line and space, and the surrounding decoration that characterizes the architecture of San Bernardo. the church is rectangular in plan with three aisles, a tower at the foot of the central, widest aisle, and three polygonal apses. Its facade is similar to that of the Abbey of the Holy Bodies, the cathedral of Santander. Its doors in the southern wall are Romanesque in style and possibly predate the building inside.
The Door of Forgiveness / La Puerta del Perdón
The principal door, the Puerta del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness) is only ever opened during each Jubilee Year when Saint Turibius’ day coincides with a Sunday. The cloister was completed in the 17th century.
The sacred relic of the Lignum Crucis, the largest known piece of the True Cross, has been worshiped 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, particularly during the Jubilee’s years. In 1967 the Pope Pablo VI extended that privilege to every day of the year and since then the affluence of pilgrims and public in general who attend this monastery on the Jubilee’s years have been extraordinary.
My personal Note:
The Love Hope and Strength Org has been my cancer foundation of choice because my father started off as a successful musician creating number one hits throughout Europe and then internationally at the age of 15, he attended the mandatory Spanish Military, he became a pilot and a commercial pilot, and by 1968 at the age of 25 became Dr. Alfonso Sáinz , leader of Spain’s most popular pop and instrumental band, still making number one hits, Los Pekenikes . With those same hands that played the sax and guitar, and that creative mind, he also as an OB/GYN brought life into this world, created surgical techniques allowing women to conceive then delivering their babies and also first and foremost SAVED many lives of many women by finding cancer during early stages and or removing cancerous tumors saving their lives.
In 1984 on my 18th birthday, my father, age 41, was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer. He was ONE in FIVE percent to survive this type of cancer to begin with. I THANK GOD every day for the extra 30 years he gave me with my father whom I consider a gift to me from God himself. Kelly Ledbetter Stephens and Rissa Dodson, while your needs for these crosses may be different, I pray that the blessings that were placed upon them as they laid on top of the largest piece of the “TRUE CROSS” touching the very wood that Jesus gave his life for to take away our pain, our sins, and so that we may be forgiven. I LOVE YOU BOTH with all of my heart and know that you are not only in my prayers, but in the prayers of so many.