May 032019
 

At one time, this date was celebrated as Roodmas (from Old English “rood” (“cross”) plus Mass), a celebration of the discovery of the “true cross” on May 3 by saint Helena in Jerusalem in 355. I won’t spill a whole lot of ink over my thoughts about the “true cross,” that is, the actual cross that Jesus was crucified on. According to post-Nicene historians such as Socrates of Constantinople, the empress Helena, mother of emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, traveled to the Holy Land in 326–328, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor. Historians Gelasius of Caesarea (d. 395) and Rufinus (344/45-411) claim that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses that were believed to have been used at the crucifixion of Jesus and of two thieves, St. Dismas and Gestas, executed with him. To one cross was affixed the titulus bearing Jesus’ name, but Helena was not sure until a miracle revealed that that cross was the true cross.

Many churches possess fragmentary remains that are by tradition alleged to be those of the true cross. Their authenticity is accepted by some denominations, mostly Catholic and Orthodox. I am with skeptical Protestants who find it beyond the realm of possibility, or even probability, that three crosses used to execute obscure criminals (among thousands) could have been preserved intact for three centuries, and fortuitously stumbled upon by a visiting pilgrim.

Roodmas originally commemorated the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection and was linked with the finding of the Cross shortly thereafter. Although saint Helena reportedly found the Cross on May 3rd, 355, most Catholic and Eastern Orthodox rites now celebrate the Feast of the Cross on September 14th, commemorating the day in 628 when a piece of the Cross taken by the Persian empire was recovered by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. After the Gallican and Latin Rites were combined, the days were observed individually as the Finding of the Holy Cross (May 3) and the Triumph of the Cross (September 14). Some Protestant churches follow variants of this practice. The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, for example, puts Roodmas on May 3rd.

In the Philippines, the Santacruzan—a ritual pageant commemorating the Finding of the True Cross—is still held in May because the custom originated in the pre-1960 Catholic observance of Roodmas on May 3rd. The celebrations typically carry over the whole month of May. In the Bicol Region, the ritual begins with the recitation of the rosary; the traditional “María” is said after the recitation of the Salve Regina in Spanish and the Litany of Loreto. Alabasyón (from the Spanish for “praising”) is the term for prayers sung in honor of the Holy Cross.

Bicol is also famous for a dish that is commonly called Bicol express, known natively in Bikol as sinilihan (lit. “spiced with chili”). It is a stew made from long chilies (siling mahaba in Tagalog), coconut milk, shrimp paste or stockfish, onion, pork, and garlic. It is said to have been inspired by the fiery Bicolano dish gulay na may lada, which is nowadays presented as one of the many variants of Bicol Express. Here’s your video: