I do not know about you, but the signs above Jesus on the crucifix never made sense to me. Almost every crucifix we see in churches have INRI written on them. That’s all fine and good. INRI stands for “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” which means, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Latin. That makes all good and fine Biblical sense.
But what never made sense to me was why it was only written in Latin. John 19:20 clearly states that the sign posted above Jesus was in Latin, Aramaic, and Greek. For me, INRI on crucifixes has always been this weird aberration in the Church where something just did not make sense.
And then I went to Rome for the first time.
Rome is a city spilling relics out onto its very streets. Or so it feels. I mean, I literally walked into a random church to rest my feet and came across the foot of St. Mary Magdalene:
I had a gigantic list of churches and things I wanted to see. So many saints, paintings, relics, and beauty!
Too bad I packed subpar footwear.
By the end of my 2nd full day in room, the blisters on my left little toe had gotten so large that my toenail popped out. I had to cut open this blister in a bathroom with a toothpick after taking a swig of my really delicious Chianti right outside the Colosseum. Every step became horrifically painful.
And I had one full day in Rome left.
I had thought about going to Assissi. I had thought about walking all over and seeing everything I could. But the reality was my foot was raw and every step was painful. I decided to let go of my expectations of the day and go with whatever was close to the 4 Papal Basilicas and public transportation.
Thank God for maimed feet.
On the suggestion of a seminarian I visited, Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem was on my radar. It is right by the Papal Basilica called the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which was on my list for the day. It was right by public transportation. And I had just gone to the Scala Santa or the Holy Steps. The Scala Santa are the relics of the steps Jesus climbed to Pilate. Climbing those on my knees and having stabbing foot pain constantly, the day already felt very Good Friday, so I thought I’d half hobble over to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
Suddenly, the sign above the cross made sense.
Basilica of the Holy Cross has impressive relics from St. Helen from a nail on the cross to part of the cross. There’s the finger of St. Thomas and some other really impressive relics too.
Relics are great and faith affirming, but the doubter in me is “well, if there’s multiple parts, some could be fakes. I need a one of a kind thing.”
But there, humbly in the bottom right of an impressive relic display in the corner of a beautiful basilica that is overshadowed by hundreds of other churches is the sign that hung above Jesus. THE sign. The ONE AND ONLY sign, called the Titulus Crucis.
It’s hard to see the 3rd language on the top, but there it was, just as described: in three languages.
I cannot read Greek, but I can read Latin letters. And there were those letters were that I could read plainly: N-something-RAZAN. Apparently the text runs right to left. So, there were letters I could understand: NAZAR-something-N. Wait. What. NAZAREAN!?
And there it was. The one of a kind, one and only sort of thing I did not know my little doubting heart needed. THE sign. The ONE AND ONLY sign. JUST AS DESCRIBED!
“Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
The inscribed words in Latin would have been Iesvs Nazarenvs, Rex Iudaeorvm where I’s are instead of J’s and V’s instead of U’s (article here).
And I can SEE it. On THE sign. The ONE AND ONLY sign. JUST AS DESCRIBED!
(Granted, part of it was broken off, so probably another part exists somewhere, but it would have different parts of the text.)
I think the just as described bit really hit home because sometimes it feels like the Bible is fantasy. But to have a physical object some 2000 years later MATCH the description just made all of it more authentic for me. Maybe the Gospel writers didn’t embellish anything. Maybe those miracles really DID happen. Maybe Jesus IS who is REALLY SAYS He is. Maybe this whole thing is real, and I can be assured that it is real.
And I love that St. Thomas’s finger was there too, because he is my spirit apostle, as I have written about before. I can be loud and brash like Peter. I can be sweet and faithful like John. I can be manipulative and deceiving like Judas. But at the end of the day, I am always questioning like Thomas because I understand risk, have a need for proof, and am over-the-top loyal once I decide to be.
And Jesus provided in spades.
I thought the Church was confused about the sign that hung above Jesus. I thought something in 2000 years got mixed and messed up. I thought that if the Church got this minor detail wrong, it could possibly have the whole thing wrong.
But it didn’t.
Out of all the things in Rome, this was my favorite. I spent like an hour just sitting there, staring, realizing in a whole new way that the sign was real, meaning the Crucifixion was real, meaning Jesus is real.
Thank God for maimed feet and Divine Providence for getting me there.
Rome was just blessed. I could write about the moment I found one of my favorite paintings in St. Peter’s Basilica and just burst into tears. Or the beauty of the Scavi tour and learning about the faith of the early Christians in Rome and how we KNEW the bones found there were Peter’s bones and how our tour guide gave us a moment to pray. Or the surreal moment of being in a Papal audience. Or the beauty of striking a friendship with a waiter after going to St. Cecilia’s. Or the amazing moment of seeing ALL THE POPES on the walls at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and realizing it DID go back to Peter. Or going through the 3 churches of St. Clement’s and seeing how the Church was literally built on the early Christians:
Rome was just blessed. 4 days was not enough! I am so excited to go back some day and not see enough again. As long as Jesus brings me where is best for my heart, I am sure I will leave blessed again.