Emperor Heraclius was trying to return the true cross to Jerusalem, but an angel told him he had to do this first.
Around 615 a Persian king captured Jerusalem and carried off the relic of the true cross of Jesus Christ that had been discovered by St. Helena. It stayed with the Persians for roughly 14 years, until Byzantine Emperor Heraclius came and defeated their armies.
Heraclius found the relic of Jesus’ cross still preserved and resolved to return it to Jerusalem. When he neared the gates of Jerusalem he intended to take the cross through the same gate Jesus used on his way to the crucifixion. However, Heraclius wanted to do it with great royal pageantry while riding on his horse.
Then something miraculous happened that prevented Heraclius from going through the gate. The Golden Legend records what happened next.
But suddenly the stones of the gateway fell down and locked together, forming an unbroken wall. To the amazement of everyone, an angel of the Lord, carrying a cross in his hands, appeared above the wall and said: “When the King of heaven passed through this gate to suffer death, there was no royal pomp. He rode a lowly ass, to leave an example of humility to his worshipers.” With those words the angel vanished.
Heraclius was stunned and began to weep. He dismounted his horse and took off every article of royal clothing, expect for his simple undergarment. Then he took the relic of the true cross and walked slowly toward the gate. It instantly returned to its former position and allowed Heraclius to enter Jerusalem.
This caused him to burst out in prayer and exclaim to God, “O cross, more splendid than all the heavenly bodies, renowned throughout the world, deserving of all men’s love, holier than all things else! O cross, you were worthy to carry the ransom of the world! O sweet wood, sweet nails, sweet sword, sweet lance, you were the bearer of sweet burdens! Save the host gathered today in praise of you and signed with your banner!”
When the relic was returned to the basilica the miracles resumed, and according to tradition, “dead men were raised to life, four paralytics were cured, ten lepers were made clean, fifteen blind people received their sight, demons were driven out, and great numbers were delivered of various infirmities.”
While legendary in character, the stories highlight the power of the cross and its connection to humility, not royal pomp or outward show. Denial and self-sacrifice are required to carry the cross of Jesus Christ. If we wish to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, this is the only gate that is open to us.