FEast: Aug. 18th
religious relics, mothers, new discoveries
Helena was born into a lower-class Turkish peasant family, (St. Ambrose wrote of her as a stable-maid or inn-keeper) and though we are unsure of the circumstances, she somehow was able to meet and become married to Constantius Chlorus. A legend goes that when he met her, possibly while on a military campaign against Zenobia, they were wearing identical silver bracelets and so he recognized her to be his soulmate. The nature of their marriage is also unclear as to whether it was official or a common-law cohabitation.
Helena gave birth to their son Constantine around 272, but Constantius divorced Helena in 289 for political motivations. Helena, very close to her son and never remarrying, raised Constantine in the inner circle of the Emperor Diocletian.
Following Constantius’ death, Constantine ascended to the throne, bringing his mother with him. He gave Helena the title of honorary empress, minted coins bearing her image, convinced her to follow him in his new faith journey with Christianity, and gave her as many funds as needed to find Christian relics in Palestine.
On her pilgrimage to the places of Jesus’ life, Helena built churches on important spots, gathered relics, and pieced together stories about the locations of certain things. She commanded a temple dedicated to Venus be torn down that had been built on a site reputed to be the place of Jesus’ Crucifixion. After having the site excavated, Helena found remains of three wooden crosses. A sickly woman from town was brought to the site and touched each of the crosses, and when she was healed upon touching the third, Helena believed it to be the True Cross of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then ordered to be built on the site.
Helena was also reputed to have found the nails and rope from Jesus’ Crucifixion, parts of his tunic, and the spot of the burning bush from Moses’ story. A legend also has it that she imported hundreds of cats to rid a certain monastery of snakes, and today, it is still known as "St. Nicholas of the Cats”. She was said to have taken pieces of the cross back with her when she returned, around the age of 80 at the time. The pieces are still on display at her palace today.
Helena passed away around the year 330, with Constantine at her side as always. She was very soon after honored as a saint not only for her foundation of many churches and her numerous discoveries, but also for her extreme generosity with her means given to the communities she visited.
you had a passion: history, preservation, and archaeology - and you knew how important these things are to our culture. In addition, you used this passion for your faith, and did some good along the way. Help us to find the intersection of our passions with our faith, and show us how our secular talents and interests can help this world, too.
Helena wears a crown and shining gold dress as symbols of her position in wealth and power. In addition, she wears a red cape, which she is almost always pictured wearing in traditional iconography. Her eyes are full of wonder and questions, and she holds a cross as a symbol of the crosses she discovered.