According to legend, the town got its name during the Muslim occupation around 1232. An imprisoned priest was to hold a Mass in the presence of the Muslim king of the region. The priest said “all that is lacking is a cross” and at his words two angels appeared carrying a cross with two arms. The Muslim king was so impressed by this miracle that he and all his subjects converted to Christianity. The most accredited version of this story was written by Father Gilles de Zamora, historian to King Ferdinand.
It was later recognised as the 'Vera Cruz' by the Catholic Church, an authentic relic of the cross Jesus Christ died on. Today, the cross is still kept in the Vera Cruz Sanctuary.
At one time it was guarded by the Order of the Templars and later by the Order of Santiago. Hundreds of pilgrims travel to the town every year to see the cross.
One of the great fiestas in Caravaca de la Cruz takes place in May. It re-enacts another legend associated with the town. The legend says that during the time of the Templars, the knights were besieged in the castle by the Moors. They had run out of water and a group of knights volunteered to undertake a dangerous mission. In the dead of night, they saddled their horses and loaded them with wine skins; they then crept out of the castle, through enemy lines to a nearby fountain. When they got there, the fountain was running with wine instead of water. The knights filled the wine skins and covered them over with their cloaks. On the way back through enemy lines, they were spotted and had to race back to the castle at top speed on their horses.
So every year, on the May 2 during the town’s Holy Festival, this great horse race is run again with around 60 horses taking part. The horses are covered in beautiful cloaks that are embroidered by the women of the town. The men run alongside the horses to encourage them. The first horse to reach the castle is the winner. This is a very popular festival that attracts tourists from around the world.