Buying gifts is difficult, even when you aren't purchasing them for an incredibly wealthy man who also owns all the UK's swans. Fortunately for the Pope, he has a catalog of unusual artifacts at the Vatican just perfect for the occasion and has gifted the King of England a piece of the "True Cross" for his coronation.
"True Cross" fragments are relics believed by some Catholics and other Christian groups to be from the crucifix used to crucify Jesus Christ. The small shavings will be incorporated into a larger metal cross to lead the procession for Charles on May 6.
So is it actually a piece of the crucifix? Almost certainly not. There are many such relics that pop up around the world which people claim are artifacts related to Jesus. Those that have been submitted to scientific testing, such as the Turin Shroud, usually do not fare well.
One fragment of wood which people believed to be from the "true cross" was tested in 2016. The piece had been a gift to Muircheartach Ó Briain, King of Munster, from Pope Paschal II in 1110, according to the Cathedral of Waterford in Ireland where it is housed. When the piece was carbon-dated at the University of Oxford, however, they found that the wood dated from the 11th century, around the period it was presented to the King of Munster. Still, it's nice to be gifted a piece of relatively fresh wood.
"There are churches all over the world that claim to have fragments or splinters of the true cross. These aren’t being carbon dated and there are a few reasons why," Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame explained in a piece for CNN at the time. The first is cost, with many of these supposed artifacts being held by churches that don't have the money to pay for analysis.
"Second, carbon dating is seen as intrusive and a little destructive. Even if only about 10 milligrams of wood are needed, you’re still chipping away at a holy object. This isn’t something that churches like to do, especially as," she adds, "almost all carbon dating tests end up discrediting the relics that are being tested. So, it’s not in the best interest of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches that claim to possess relics to have them tested."
It's unclear which relic Charles's fragments have come from, though it's possible it came from the "Titulus Crucis", which is claimed to be the title panel of the cross. This was also carbon-dated in 2016 (a big year for dating Jesus relics) and found to be from 980-1146 CE.
Without rigorous testing of the shavings, all we know for certain is that King Charles has definitely been given some kind of wood.