We draw our inspiration from our Crosier heritage and celebrate it liturgically on a number of days throughout the year. The primary feast day of the Crosiers, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, reflects a spirituality focused on the triumphant Cross of Christ and our glorified Lord. When we celebrate these feasts, we are united with our Crosier ancestors and with our confreres around the world.
Early documents of the Order identify St. Odilia as a companion of St. Ursula, part of a group who were apparently martyred for their Christianity by Huns near Cologne. In 1286, Br. John of Eppa, a Crosier in the Paris community, received a vision to exhume the relics of three of Ursula’s companions: Christina, Basilia and Yma. He went to Cologne, found the relics, and transferred them to various churches. The next year, he received a vision from Ida and Odilia, also companions of Ursula.
According to some accounts, Odilia introduced herself as the daughter of Emperor Maromeus and companion of Ursula and insisted that John travel to Cologne and unearth her remains and those of her sister Ida. When told of this apparition, the prior at first refused permission for the trip; however, in 1287, Br. John left for Cologne. On Sept. 1, the Crosier brother and his priest companion found the grave under a pear tree and unearthed the relics. The archbishop of Cologne was present when the relics were removed. A few days later, the relics were on their way to the mother house of the Brethren of the Holy Cross at Huy. Along the journey, numerous miracles were reported as people came in contact with the relics. The relics were received in Huy amid great rejoicing. The relics were then placed in a wooden reliquary in the Crosier monastery at Huy. This feast day commemorates the arrival of St. Odilia’s relics to Huy.
A central figure in Crosier history, St. Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine. According to legend, she found the True Cross and built the churches on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and a church in Bethlehem. She died around 330. The stories of the founding of the Crosiers, which are variations of the legends of the finding of the True Cross, give Helena an important role not just in finding the Cross, but in establishing the Order itself. St. Helena is seen as a founder of the Order that had perished under persecution and was re-founded at the time of Innocent III by Blessed Theodore de Celles. As a result, she was the principal patroness of the Order into the 16th century.
Theodore of Celles (in present-day Belgium) is venerated as the primary founder of our Order. Theodore is first mentioned in the 17th-century work of Henricus Russelius, Chronicon Cruciferorum sine Synopsis Memorabilium Sacri et Canonici Ordinis Sanctae Crucis. According to Russelius, while participating in the Third Crusade, Theodore visited Jerusalem where he became acquainted with the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulcher. He was attracted to their way of life, both their common prayer and their ministry. The bishop of Liege, whom Theodore accompanied on the Crusade, appointed him a canon of the cathedral of Liege when they returned home.
Theodore soon became interested in the community life of the canons of the cathedral. After he made a journey to southern France to preach against the Albigensians, he returned to Liege and renounced his position as a canon and took up residence near St. Theobald’s chapel outside Huy in a place called Clarus Locus (or Clairlieu).
In 1214, Theodore and his companions applied for confirmation of their foundation to papal authorities. Later, Theodore traveled to Rome, and Pope Innocent III confirmed his request to begin a religious community on May 3, 1216 (feast of the Invention [finding] of the Holy Cross). The earliest Crosiers, under the leadership of Theodore, were known as the Brethren of the Holy Cross. Little else is known of the life of our holy founder. It is believed that Theodore of Celles, the first prior of Clairlieu in Huy, died in 1236.
Augustine was born November 13, 354, in North Africa. His father, Patricius, was a pagan who later converted to Christianity, but his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian who labored untiringly for her son’s conversion. Augustine was educated as a rhetorician. Between the ages of 15 and 30, he lived with a Carthaginian woman whose name is unknown; in 372 she bore him a son, whom he named Adeodatus, which is Latin for “the gift of God.” About 383 Augustine left Carthage for Rome, and a year later he went on to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric. In the course of his intellectual struggle, Augustine became an earnest seeker after truth.
In Milan he came under the influence of its bishop, Ambrose, then the most distinguished ecclesiastic in Italy. Augustine soon embraced Christianity and was baptized by Ambrose during the Easter Vigil in 387. His mother, who had rejoined him in Italy, rejoiced at this answer to her prayers. He returned to North Africa and was ordained in 391. He became bishop of Hippo in 395, an office he held until his death. As bishop, Augustine provided for the restoration and continuation among his clergy of the apostolic life, the life in common of the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Augustine’s Rule and the way of life it symbolizes was later adopted by the early Brethren of the Holy Cross and other religious. Augustine died at Hippo on August 28, 430. He is venerated as the spiritual father of the Order.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is the titular feast of the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross. Most early documents of the Order indicate that the first Crosiers were inspired by the legends of the Holy Cross, popular throughout Europe in those times because of the Crusades to the Holy Land. Russelius indicated that Theodore of Celles, whom he identifies as the founder of the Brethren of the Holy Cross, actually made a crusade and visited the sacred shrines in Jerusalem.
Tradition says that Helena discovered the True Cross of Christ on Sept. 14, 320. Fifteen years later, the two churches built by Constantine, the Martyrium and the Anastasis, were dedicated in Jerusalem. The following day, on Sept. 14, the True Cross was raised and solemnly exposed for veneration by the assembly. Those churches that had major relics of the Cross would on this feast imitate the ritual of Jerusalem and raise up the Cross for the veneration of the people. Thus, the feast, though also the anniversary of the finding of the Cross, receives the name exaltation (meaning lifting up). The liturgical manuscripts of the Order indicate that this feast has been celebrated with great solemnity and joy since our beginnings.
While many religious orders or congregations have numerous canonized saints, the Crosiers do not. However, there is a sense of a shared history and tradition among those religious who, like the Crosiers, are canons regular. In the 18th century, the Order adopted an officium canonicum celebrating saints connected with the canonical life. This list included numerous saints who lived as canons regular.
This list of more than a hundred saints disrupted the liturgical calendar and the temporal cycle (the celebration of the mysteries of the Lord). In later reforms, it was dropped. But in order to accommodate the commemoration of numerous saints connected with a religious institute and not unduly disrupt the temporal cycle of the Church year, the norms of the current Roman liturgical calendar encourage a collective celebration: “A collective celebration may be added to the calendar of a diocese or religious institute for all the saints or the blessed belonging to them…” [#14b, General Instruction of the Roman Calendar]. On the first free day after the feast of All Saints (Nov. 5), the Crosiers celebrate the feast of All Holy Canons Regular of St. Augustine. The propers for this collective feast indicate its purpose: “The Order of the brethren of the Holy Cross does not have any canonized saints among its deceased members, although in the course of time many of our brothers have excelled in true and profound holiness. All of these, together with our confreres from the whole order of canons are celebrated in one feast.”