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Saint Helena
Coin of Flavia Iulia Helena, mother of Constantine I. Æ Follis (19mm, 3.45 gm). Treveri (Trier) mint. Struck 325-326 AD.
Empress; Mother of Constantine the Great
Born ca. 248, Drepanum, Bithynia, Asia Minor
Died ca. 328, Constantinople, Roman Empire (now modern-day Istanbul, Turkey)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodoxy
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation[1]
Major shrine The shrine to Saint Helena in St. Peter's Basilica
Feast 18 August (Roman Catholic Church); 21 May (Lutheran & Orthodox Churches); 19 May (Lutheran Church); 9 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox Church)
Attributes Cross
Patronage archeologists, converts, difficult marriages, divorced people, empresses, Helena, the capital of Montana

Saint Helena (Latin: Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta) also known as Saint Helen, Helena Augusta or Helena of Constantinople (ca. 246/50 – 18 August 330) was the consort of Emperor Constantius, and the mother of Emperor Constantine I. She is traditionally credited with finding the relics of the True Cross.

Contents

Family life

Icons of Saint Gabriel (left) and Saint Helena (right) in the Chapel of Saint Michael, an Episcopal Church in Sagada, Mountain Province, Mountain Province, Philippines.

Helena's birthplace is not known with certainty. The sixth-century historian Procopius is the earliest authority for the statement that Helena was a native of Drepanum, in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Her son Constantine renamed the city "Helenopolis" after her death in 328, giving rise to the belief that the city was her birthplace.[2] Although he might have done so in honor of her birthplace, Constantine probably had other reasons for doing so. The Byzantinist Cyril Mango has argued that Helenopolis was refounded to strengthen the communication network around his new capital in Constantinople, and was renamed to honor Helena, not to mark her birthplace.[3] There was also a Helenopolis in Palestine (modern Daburiyya)[4][5] and a Helenopolis in Lydia.[6] These cities, and the province of Helenopontus in the Diocese of Pontus, were probably both named after Constantine's mother.[2]

The bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea states that she was about 80 on her return from Palestine.[7] Since that journey has been dated to 326–28, Helena was probably born in 248 or 250. Little is known of her early life.[8] Fourth-century sources, following Eutropius' "Breviarium," record that she came from a low background. Saint Ambrose was the first to call her a stabularia, a term translated as "stable-maid" or "inn-keeper". He makes this fact a virtue, calling Helena a bona stabularia, a "good stable-maid".[9] Other sources, especially those written after Constantine's proclamation as emperor, gloss over or ignore her background.[8]

It is unknown where she first met Constantius.[10] The historian Timothy Barnes has suggested that Constantius, while serving under Emperor Aurelian, could have met her while stationed in Asia Minor for the campaign against Zenobia. Barnes calls attention to an epitaph at Nicomedia of one of Aurelian's protectors, which could indicate the emperor's presence in the Bithynian region soon after 270.[11] The precise legal nature of the relationship between Helena and Constantius is also unknown. The sources are equivocal on the point, sometimes calling Helena Constantius' "wife", and sometimes calling her his "concubine".[10] Jerome, perhaps confused by the vague terminology of his own sources, manages to do both.[12] Some scholars, such as the historian Jan Drijvers, assert that Constantius and Helena were joined in a common-law marriage, a cohabitation recognized in fact but not in law.[13] Others, like Timothy Barnes, assert that Constantius and Helena were joined in an official marriage, on the grounds that the sources claiming an official marriage are more reliable.[14]

Helena gave birth to the future emperor Constantine I on the 27th of February of an uncertain year soon after 270[15] (probably around 272).[16] At the time, she was in Naissus (Niš, Serbia).[17] Constantius divorced Helena at some time before 289, when he married Theodora, Maximian's daughter.[18] (The narrative sources date the marriage to 293, but the Latin panegyric of 289 refers to the couple as already married.[19]) Helena never remarried and lived for a while in obscurity, though close to her only son, who had a deep regard and affection for her.

Constantine was proclaimed Augustus of the Roman Empire in 306 by Constantius' troops after the latter had died, and following his elevation his mother was brought back to the public life and the imperial court. She received the title of Augusta in 325 and died in 330 with her son at her side. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, although the connection is often questioned. The elaborate reliefs contain hunting scenes. During her life, she gave many presents to the poor, released prisoners and mingled with the ordinary worshipers in modest attire.

Sainthood

The shrine to Saint Helena in St. Peter's Basilica

She is considered by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches as a saint, famed for her piety. Her feast day as a saint of the Orthodox Christian Church is celebrated with her son on 21 May, the "Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles."[20] Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church falls on 18 August. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons. Eusebius records the details of her pilgrimage to Palestine and other eastern provinces (though not her discovery of the True Cross). She is the patron saint of new discoveries.

Relic discoveries

Helena's sarcophagus in the Museo Pio-Clementino, Rome
Orthodox Bulgarian icon of Constantine and St. Helena
Helena finding the True Cross, Italian manuscript ca. 825

Constantine appointed his mother Helen as Augusta, and gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. In 325, Helena was in charge of such a journey to Jerusalem by her son. Upon the request of the monks in the region, Helena ordered the construction of a church in Egypt to identify the Burning Bush of Sinai. The chapel at St. Catherine's Monastery--often referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen--is dated to the year AD 330.

Jerusalem was still rebuilding from the destruction of Emperor Hadrian, who had built a temple to Venus over the site of Jesus's tomb near Calvary. According to tradition, Helena ordered the temple torn down and chose a site to begin excavating, which led to the recovery of three different crosses. Then, refusing to be swayed by anything but solid proof, the empress had a woman who was already at the point of death brought from Jerusalem. When the woman touched the first and second crosses, her condition did not change, but when she touched the third and final cross she suddenly recovered[citation needed], and Helena declared the cross with which the woman had been touched to be the True Cross. On the site of discovery, Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as on other sites detected by Helena.

She also found the nails of the crucifixion. To use their miraculous power to aid her son, Helena allegedly had one placed in Constantine's helmet, and another in the bridle of his horse. Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in 327 to return to Rome, bringing with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics, which were then stored in her palace's private chapel, where they can be still seen today. Her palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the church for centuries.

According to one tradition, Helena acquired the Holy Tunic on her trip to Jerusalem and sent it to Trier.

Several of Saint Helena's treasures are now in Cyprus, where she spent some time. Some of them are a part of Jesus Christ's tunic, pieces of the holy cross and the world's only pieces of the rope to which Jesus was tied with on the Cross. The latter has been held at the Stavrovouni Monastery, which was also founded by Saint Helena.

A Cathedral was named after her in Helena, Montana.

Depictions in British folklore

In Great Britain, later legend, mentioned by Henry of Huntingdon but made popular by Geoffrey of Monmouth, claimed that Helena was a daughter of the King of Britain, Cole of Camulodunum, who allied with Constantius to avoid more war between the Britons and Rome. Geoffrey further states that she was brought up in the manner of a queen, as she had no brothers to inherit the throne of Britain. The source for this may have been Sozomen's Historia Ecclesiastica, which however does not claim Helena was British but only that her son Constantine picked up his Christianity there.[21] Constantine was with his father when he died in Eboracum (York), but neither had spent much time in Britain. There is no other surviving evidence to support this legend, which may be due to confusion with Saint Elen, wife of the usurper Magnus Maximus.[citation needed]

At least twenty-five holy wells currently exist in the United Kingdom that are dedicated to Saint Helena. She is also the patron saint of Colchester and Abingdon.

Adrian Gilbert has argued that Helena traveled to Nevern in Wales where she hid the True Cross near the local Norman church of St Brynach where a cross is carved into a rock formation. Named the Pilgrim's Cross, religious pilgrims once came here to pray for visions. Names of local places are abundant with cross imagery, including "River of the Empress," "Mountain of the Cross," "Pass of the Cross" and others. The True Cross, however, has not been found in this region.[22]

Depictions in fiction

Helena is the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh's novel Helena. She is also the main character of Priestess of Avalon (2000), a fantasy novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson. She is given the name Eilan and depicted as a trained priestess of Avalon.

Notes

  1. ^ Her canonization precedes the practice of formal Canonization by the Holy See and the relevant Orthodox Churches. "August 18 in German History". TGermanCulture.com.ua. http://www.germanculture.com.ua/august/august18.htm. Retrieved 2006-09-23. 
  2. ^ a b Harbus, 12.
  3. ^ Mango, 143–58, cited in Harbus, 13.
  4. ^ Rivka Shpak Lissak, "Dabburiya, An Arabic Village was formerly the Israeli/Jewish Davarita" [1]
  5. ^ Günter Stemberger, Jews and Christians in the Holy Land: Palestine in the fourth century, 2000, p. 9 full text
  6. ^ Hunt, 49, cited in Harbus, 12.
  7. ^ Eusebius, Vita Constantini 3.46.
  8. ^ a b Harbus, 13.
  9. ^ Ambrose, De obitu Theodosii 42; Harbus, 13.
  10. ^ a b Lieu and Montserrat, 49.
  11. ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 2775, cited in Barnes, "New Empire," 36.
  12. ^ Hieronymus, Chronica, s.a. 292, p. 226, 4 and s.a. 306, p. 228, 23/4, cited in Lieu and Montserrat, 49.
  13. ^ Drijvers, Helena Augusta, 17-19.
  14. ^ Barnes, New Empire, 36.
  15. ^ Barnes, CE, 3, 39–42; Elliott, Christianity of Constantine, 17; Odahl, 15; Pohlsander, "Constantine I"; Southern, 169, 341.
  16. ^ Barnes, CE, 3; Barnes, New Empire, 39–42; Elliott, "Constantine's Conversion," 425–6; Elliott, "Eusebian Frauds," 163; Elliott, Christianity of Constantine, 17; Jones, 13–14; Lenski, "Reign of Constantine" (CC), 59; Odahl, 16; Pohlsander, Emperor Constantine, 14; Rodgers, 238; Wright, 495, 507.
  17. ^ Barnes, CE, 3.
  18. ^ Barnes, CE, 8–9.
  19. ^ Origo 1; Victor, Caes. 39.24f; Eutropius, Brev. 9.22.1; Epitome 39.2; Pan. Lat. 10(2).11.4, cited in Barnes, CE, 288 n.55.
  20. ^ "May 21: Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles". Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. http://www.goarch.org/en/special/listen_learn_share/constantineandhelen/learn/. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  21. ^ "Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-02/Npnf2-02-19.htm#P2958_1190344. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  22. ^ Adrian Gilbert, The Holy Kingdom: The Quest for the Real King Arthur, 1998.

References

  • Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius (CE in citations). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981. ISBN 978-0674165311
  • Barnes, Timothy D. The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (NE in citations). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. ISBN 0783722214
  • Drijvers, Jan Willem. Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and her Finding of the True Cross. Leiden & New York: Brill, 1992.
  • Drijvers, Jan Willem. "Evelyn Waugh, Helena and the True Cross." Classics Ireland 7 (2000).
  • Elliott, T. G. "Constantine's Conversion: Do We Really Need It?" Phoenix 41 (1987): 420–438.
  • Elliott, T. G. "Eusebian Frauds in the "Vita Constantini"." Phoenix 45 (1991): 162–171.
  • Elliott, T. G. The Christianity of Constantine the Great . Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1996. ISBN 0-940866-59-5
  • Harbus, Antonia. Helena of Britain in Medieval Legend. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2002.
  • Jones, A.H.M. Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1978 [1948].
  • Hunt, E.D. Holy Land Pilgrimage in the Later Roman Empire: A.D. 312–460. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.
  • Lenski, Noel. "The Reign of Constantine." In The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, edited by Noel Lenski, 59–90. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Hardcover ISBN 0-521-81838-9 Paperback ISBN 0-521-52157-2
  • Lieu, Samuel N. C. and Dominic Montserrat. From Constantine to Julian: Pagan and Byzantine Views. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Mango, Cyril. "The Empress Helena, Helenopolis, Pylae." Travaux et Mémoires 12 (1994): 143–58.
  • Odahl, Charles Matson. Constantine and the Christian Empire. New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Pohlsander, Hans. The Emperor Constantine. London & New York: Routledge, 2004. Hardcover ISBN 0-415-31937-4 Paperback ISBN 0-415-31938-2
  • Rodgers, Barbara Saylor. "The Metamorphosis of Constantine." The Classical Quarterly 39 (1989): 233–246.
  • Wright, David H. "The True Face of Constantine the Great." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 41 (1987): 493–507

External links

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