Rastatt Residential Palace, legend of the true cross, ceiling fresco in the palace church in Rastatt, Johann Hiebel, 1722


The palace church in Rastatt is dedicated to the Holy Cross, the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The history of its discovery by Saint Helena is depicted in the ceiling fresco. The Margravine Sybilla Augusta von Baden-Baden is depicted in a special way here.

Rastatt Residential Palace, discovery of the cross by Empress Helena, detail of ceiling fresco in the palace church in Rastatt

Sibylla Augusta as Empress Helena


Sibylla Augusta commissioned artist Johann Hiebel (1681–1755) to paint the ceiling fresco in 1722. It depicts the discovery and exultation of the Holy Cross. According to legend, it was discovered by Helena in Jerusalem in 326. She was the mother of the late Roman Emperor Constantine who paved the way for Christianity as a state religion.

Rastatt Residential Palace, destruction of the temple and construction of the church, detail of the ceiling fresco in the palace church in Rastatt

The temple was destroyed and the church built


Helena found the Holy Cross beneath a Roman Temple to Venus. The ceiling fresco depicts the destruction of the temple, in which the statue of Venus has already lost its head! It also shows the construction of the new church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Helena and Constantine commissioned to be built on the site where the cross was found. There is clear symbolism behind the depiction: the triumph of Christian faith over Pagan religion.

The worship of the Holy Cross

When a dying woman was healed, the Holy Cross of Christ was identified from among three that had been found - something known as the cross test. The Cross was then “exalted” or raised for worship. The believers before the Cross included Bishop Macarius, who pointed Helena to the site where the Cross was found, and Helena herself. However, anyone who knows Rastatt Residential Palace and its inhabitants will quickly notice: Helena has Sibylla Augusta's facial features and is wearing the widow's clothing.

Rastatt Residential Palace, portrait of Margravine Sibylla Augusta von Baden.

Portrait of Margravine Sibylla Augusta

The margravine as Saint Helena

For Sibylla Augusta, Saint Helena was an ideal figure with which to identify: Helena encouraged worship of the Holy Cross and the Passion of Christ by building churches. She is also said to have brought the Holy Stairs to Rome. With the construction of the palace church and other chapels in Rastatt, Sibylla Augusta emulated Saint Helena. Incidentally, as the mother of an emperor, Helena took the title “Augusta”.