Saint Helena of Constantinople
Born: c. 255
Died: c. 330
Saint Helena was an influental figure in Christian history. She was born in the mid-third century, possibly in the region of Bithynia in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), and is believed to have died around 330 AD.
Saint Helena is best known as the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. She was married to Constantius Chlorus, who became the co-emperor of the Western Roman Empire. However, after her husband’s death, Constantine rose to power and became the sole ruler.
Helena embraced Christianity, and her faith had a significant impact on her son Constantine. Under Constantine’s rule, Christianity was officially recognized and granted legal status within the Roman Empire through the Edict of Milan in 313.
One of the notable events associated with Saint Helena is her pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the early fourth century. According to tradition, she embarked on a journey to Jerusalem, Nazareth, and other biblical sites, with the purpose of locating and preserving Christian relics. It is believed that she discovered the True Cross, the cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified, during her visit to Jerusalem. Her discovery of the True Cross is an important aspect of her veneration and the veneration of relics associated with the Crucifixion.
On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Saint Helena is believed to have overseen the construction of the basilica Church of the Ascension, which commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven as described in the New Testament. The original church was destroyed over the centuries, but the site continues to be a place of pilgrimage for Christians. In Bethlehem, Saint Helena is associated with the founding of the Church of the Nativity. This basilica stands over the traditional birthplace of Jesus and is one of the oldest continuously operating Christian worship sites in the world. It remains an important destination for pilgrims. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is another significant site associated with Saint Helena, where she played a role in its construction and is believed to have discovered the True Cross at this location.
Geoffrey of Monmouth writes in his Historia Regum Britanniae, that Helena was a daughter of Coel, a British king who ruled over Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester). She was known for her beauty and was sought after by many suitors. In Geoffrey’s narrative, Helena marries the Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus as part of a political alliance to avoid further conflict between Rome and Britain. After the marriage with Constantius Chlorus, she embraced Christianity, built churches and monastic establishments throughout Britain, including in York and London.