The item was given to Cheverus by Abbe Claude de la Poterie, the first pastor of the cathedral, who was also a French priest, as well as a onetime chaplain in the French Navy. De la Poterie celebrated the first public Mass in Boston on Nov. 2, 1788.
The relic is one of many around the world that are said to be parts of the "True Cross.'' Many churches have claimed to have relics of the cross since the 4th century but the authenticity is often disputed.
Boston's first Catholic church, completed on Franklin Street in 1803, was named the Church of the Holy Cross. The church was designated a cathedral in 1808, when the Diocese of Boston was established. The current cathedral, on Washington Street in the South End, was completed in 1875.
People visiting the chapel often stop to pray before the relic. On Good Friday, the cross that holds the relic is brought into the cathedral, and people step forward and venerate the cross by genuflecting and kneeling in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus.