THE enchanting Santa Cruz district of Alicante is the setting for this colourful annual celebration.
Located in the highest part of Alicante, nestling on Mount Benacantil, Santa Cruz is already famous for its year-round floral displays.
The cobbled streets, intimate plazas and picturesque balconies are a favourite haunt for tourists.
During the first three days of May however, the district is completely transformed by magnificent floral crosses, some over three metres high, which are placed all along the streets, filling the air with wonderful perfume and creating a picture-postcard scene. Local women decorate the crosses using thousands of fresh flowers, and the city council runs a competition, awarding prizes to the best designs. The atmosphere is festive and light-hearted with music and dancing in the streets.
ORIGINS OF THE FIESTA
There are two theories as to where the origins of the May Crosses lie. Many believe that they commemorate St. Helen’s discovery of the True Cross on May 3rd in 325, and others attribute the importance of the crosses to a vision seen by her son, Constantine the Great, some 13 years earlier.
In 312, the Roman Emperor, Constantine, found himself under attack by Maxentius, who had a far greater number of troops than he. Legend has it that Constantine prayed to God for help and guidance and was rewarded by a vision of the cross of Christ in the sky, with the words “In hoc signo vincis” (With this sign you will conquer) emblazoned above it. In response, Constantine had a cross built and put it at the front of his army. This is the famous banner that became known as the Roman Labarum. Under this Christian ensign Constantine marched against his enemy and won an important victory. When he returned to Rome, so convinced was he of the power of the cross that he had himself baptised into the Christian church and ordered churches to be built.
Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great. She embraced Christianity late in life, but it is said that her incomparable faith and piety greatly influenced her son, the first Christian emperor. When Constantine returned from his victory over Maxentius, he was so enamoured with Christianity that he sent his eighty-yearold mother to Jerusalem, in search of holy relics, but more specifically, the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Jerusalem was still being rebuilt after the destruction of Hadrian, a previous emperor, who had built a temple to Venus over the site of Jesus’ tomb near Calvary.
According to legend, Helen entered the temple and ordered it to be torn down so that excavation could begin. This led to the discovery of three crosses. Refusing to be swayed by anything but solid proof, Helen had the dead and dying brought to the scene and to be touched by the crosses. When people miraculously recovered after touching one of the crosses, Helen declared the cross to be the True Cross and on the site of the discovery she ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She went on to have churches built on many other holy sites.
Allegedly, she also found the nails of the crucifixion and used their miraculous power to help her son in battle. She placed one in Constantine’s helmet and another in his horse’s bridle. She brought a large part of the True Cross along with other relics back to Rome in 327, which were then stored in the private chapel within her palace, where they can still be see today. Her palace was later converted into the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. Before she died in Rome in 328, Helen begged for the day that the True Cross was found to be remembered and commemorated each year.