Exaltation of the Cross and Basil

I think I shall make some fresh pesto tomorrow for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross… 2nd anniversary of Summorum Pontificum.

I found this on Vultus Christi:

The aromatic herb, basil (Ocimum basilicum) has long been associated with the Holy Cross.

Etymologically, it is related to basileios, the Greek word for king. [Great connection!]

According to a pious legend, the Empress Saint Helena found the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a colony of basil. Basil plants were reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where fell the Precious Blood of Christ and the tears of the Mother of Sorrows.

A sprig of basil was said to have been found growing from the wood of the True Cross.

On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it is customary in the East to rest the Holy Cross on a bed of basil before presenting it to the veneration of the faithful.

Also, from the practice in some areas of strewing branches of basil before church communion rails, it came to be known as Holy Communion Plant Blessed basil leaf can be arranged in a bouquet at the foot of the crucifix; the dried leaves can also be used by the faithful as a sacramental.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

Let us pray.

Almighty and merciful God,
deign, we beseech You, to bless
Your creature, this aromatic basil leaf. +
Even as it delights our senses,
may it recall for us the triumph of Christ, our Crucified King
and the power of His Precious Blood
to purify and preserve us from evil
so that, planted beneath His Cross,
we may flourish to Your glory
and spread abroad the fragrance of His sacrifice.
Who is Lord forever and ever.

R. Amen.

The bouquets of basil leaf are sprinkled with Holy Water.


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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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14 Responses to Exaltation of the Cross and Basil

  1. Fascinating post. As I’ve mentioned, we have a shrub-sized basil plant in our front garden and have been freezing pesto “hockey pucks” for weeks. (They hold up rather well, actually; we thawed one out tonight and used it to delicious effect over penne.) Perhaps we ought to cook something special tomorrow.

  2. Fr. John Mary says:

    Thank you, Father, for the reminder.
    We shall bless a bouquet of basil tomorrow.
    Happy Feast!

  3. Geoffrey says:

    Fr. Z:

    What a great post! It makes me appreciate my basil plants a bit more! Will you be sharing your pesto recipe with us, Father?

  4. Peggy R says:

    Let me know if you’d like to become a cook for hire. My poor husband married a career-girl, who’s now at home and doesn’t enjoy cooking. I’ve noticed younger men like to cook b/c they like to eat–and I guess they got tired of waiting for a girl to cook like mom. Thank goodness children like mac and cheese, hot dogs, etc.!

  5. 4mercy says:

    First of all…wonderful post!! It shows, once again, the richness of Catholic tradition!

    Secondly…for lack of a proper place to post this comment….
    On the dawn of the wonderful “Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross” it has begun…

    The priest where I attend daily Mass (no EF here) has just announced that due to Swine Flu concerns, communicants may only receive Our Lord on the hand. AAAAAHHHHH!!! It smacks of exploitation of a “crisis” to further a personal agenda. This will be so difficult to be obedient to.

    Is there any recourse for this sort of craziness???

  6. chironomo says:


    Ask him what will be the criteria for again allowing the more reverent way of receiving communion… a statement from the Bishop? The CDC? The end of flu season? If there is a reason to begin this practice, there must also be a reason to stop.

    You could also perhaps direct the priest to an article such as…


    which point out that communion in the hand is MORE LIKELY to spread flu virus than the Priest only distributing communion on the tongue. Then suggest that this solution would actually be the better option if he is REALLY concerned about spreading flu.

  7. 4mercy says:

    Chironomo –
    Excellent advice! Excellent resource! Thank you VERY much!!!

  8. Irish says:

    Thank you Father for this post. This year I grew regular green basil and a beautiful green and black variegated basil. I’ve already made one batch of pesto and am getting ready to make another with the end of summer growth. When I make pesto, I make some for now and put some in a plastic ice tray and freeze it. Then I take it out of the ice tray and wrap each “cube” up individually. One little cube makes a great addition to pasta sauces and soups throughout the winter.

  9. liebemama says:

    I have been babysitting a large ‘red’ basil plant for a friend on vacation. It has an almost perfumed aroma. I then mixed the red and green for your basic mozzarella and tomato salad with balsamico and olive oil. It was well received. Thanks for the inspiration Fr. Z.

  10. S Petersen says:

    It was so long ago, that I do not remember if the occasion was related to the Roman Feast of the Exultation of the Cross, but at a Greek Orthodox Liturgy I attended (with my Greek step-mother-in-law’s family) each person present was given a sprig of (fresh) basil. I rooted mine and had it as a plant for some time.

  11. Agnes says:

    Reminds me to harvest the basil and make pesto tonight. Thanks, Z!

  12. david andrew says:

    We had a funeral at the church I serve as music director this morning. Afterwards I was to meet with our deacon, who is responsible for coordinating our re-instituted “low Mass” in the EF on the third Saturday of the month, for some quick refreshers so that I can assist. Beforehand, however, he put on a cassock, surplice and stole (red) and pulled out a printout of your posted prayer together with a sprig of basil from his own garden to bless! He told me that he has a relic (don’t know what class) of the True Cross which he will adorn with his newly-blessed basil.

    I just love being connected with the right kind of people, finally!

  13. irishgirl says:

    The ‘connection’ between basil and the Holy Cross is sooo cool, Fr. Z!

    Never heard of that before….

  14. Agnes of Prague says:

    Neat! I am growing basil in the yard and didn’t know it had symbolic associations. I’m glad it does. I recommend it to everyone–you can buy a little pot for only $3, and if you tend it you will have months and months of delicious and refreshing-smelling fresh basil!