Saint of the day 18th August, We Celebrate saint Helena

Saint of the day 18th August, We Celebrate saint Helena

St. Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great, and she was born around 248 AD in Drepanum, which is located in modern day Turkey.

She married Constantius Chorus, who would later became co-Regent of the Western part of the Roman Empire, but in order for that to happen, he had to divorce Helena and marry Theodora, the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinianus, but her son remained faithful to her, and following the death of Constantius Chlorus, Constantine succeeded him and summoned his mother to the imperial court and conferred on her the title of Augusta.  He ordered that all honor should be paid to her as the mother of the sovereign, and he had coins struck bearing her effigy.

She embraced Christianity following her son’s victory over Maxentius, and, according to Eusebius,  she “became a devout servant of God,” and her influence helped Christianity spread throughout the empire. She had churches built over the sacred spots in Palestine, and at an advanced age, she undertook a journey to Palestine in the year 324 AD, once her son had become the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. During this journey, she had two special churches constructed, one in Bethlehem, near the Grotto of the Nativity, and the other on the Mount of the Ascension. She had great concern for the poor, financially assisting both individuals and entire communities. It was during this time that a legend, first recorded by Rufinus, began circulating about how she had “found” the true cross.

There are several versions on how the cross is found. In some, Helena has a dream telling her where the cross is buried. In another tradition, the Ethiopian Coptic tradition still celebrated as Mesquel, she follows smoke from a bonfire to the site.

However, in the version that received the most circulation and became popular in the Middle Ages, she asks the people of Jerusalem to tell her the location. When the Jewish leaders of the city are silent, she places one of them, a man named Judas, in a well until he agrees to show her the site. After seven days, he prays to God for guidance and reveals the location. Afterwards, Judas converts to Christianity, and takes the name Kyriakis, “he who belongs to the Lord.”

Helena finds three crosses, nails, and the title under a pagan temple. To determine which is the right cross, a deathly sick girl is brought to the site. She is touched by all three crosses, but upon being touched by the True Cross, she is restored to health.

St. Helena lived in a lavish house near the Lateran, and after her death, her residence was demolished, and the Church of the Holy Cross was built on that site. In 325 AD, she received the title Augusta, and in 327 AD, Constantine changed the name of his mother’s hometown to Helanopolis. She was about eighty-two when she died in 330 AD, with her son at her side, and her body was brought to Constantinople and laid to rest in the imperial vault of the Church of the Apostles.   She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum. Next to her is the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Saint Constantina (Saint Constance). Her skull is displayed in the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. As the Muslims began advancing, her body was transferred to the Abbey of Hautvillers in Reims, France in 849 AD. 

St. Helena is the patron saint of difficult marriages, divorced people, converts, and archaeologists.  Her Feast Day is August 18.