Saint Helena Overview

By | November 25, 2021

Flavia Iulia Helena, known as Saint Helena (Turkey, 250 – Rome, 330), was the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. See Saint Helena facts.

Biographical synthesis

According to the text Origo Constantini Imperatoris (‘the origin of the Emperor Constantine’) of the Anónymus Valesianus (around the year 390), Saint Helena in her old age affirmed that she had been born the daughter of a servant, in the bosom of a religious family, in the locality Drepanum, Drépano or Daprasano (later known as Helenópolis) at the entrance to the Gulf of Nicomedia (the capital of the kingdom, present-day Hersek), in the country of Bithynia and Ponto in the northwest of the Anatolia region (present-day Turkey). She was a Roman empress and later proclaimed a saint of the Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches.

When she was over twenty years old, the new General Constancio Cloro fell in love with her (the nickname Cloro [green] referred to the pale color of his complexion), who was from a rich family and beloved of the Emperor Maximinus. The legal character of their union is not known. Some texts affirm that she was the wife and others that she was the concubine. On February 27, some year after 270 (possibly around 272) the future Emperor Constantine was born in Naissus (Dardania).

More than twenty years later, on March 1, 293, Diecletian and Maximin name Galerius and Constantius as “Caesars” of their respective kingdoms. The latter is forced to legally marry a woman of his own class. So Constancio abandons Helena and marries Maximino’s stepdaughter. His own son chooses to live with his father, who makes him attend military school. On July 25, 306, Constancio Cloro died. Constantine decided to take his mother to live with him at the court of Trier. At this time there is still no historical certainty that his mother was already a Christian.

When Constantine’s army won the battle of Saxa Rubra, in 312, and Constantine thus became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire, he immediately affirmed that before the battle he knew that he would win it because he saw in the Sun the sign of the cross of Christ, and he swore to have seen a sign in the sky that said (in Latin language): “With this sign you will conquer.” That made her mother a Christian too.

Discovery of the Cross of Christ

In 326, after Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire, Elena, who lived with her son in his palace in Byzantium on the banks of the Bosphorus, undertook, despite her advanced age, an official trip to the “Saints Places ”(Jerusalem and other nearby places, where the Gospel accounts took place). In Palestine, Helena left the money to build two temples in Bethlehem, near the “Grotto of the Nativity” (where local Christians claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was born, ignoring the fact that the Gospel says he was not born in a cave but in a stable), and the other on the Mount of Ascension, near Jerusalem, where local Christians claimed that the Virgin Mary had taken off into Heaven.

She returned from the Holy Land with two pieces of log, and claimed that they were the Cross of Christ, which she had broken into three pieces, [1] so that she could leave one in Jerusalem, take another to Constantinople, and send the third to Rome (this piece is preserved and venerated in the Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, in the center of Rome).

According to abbreviationfinder, Saint Helena affirmed that in Judea she had not been residing in Jerusalem all the time but had dedicated herself to an eager search for the Holy Cross throughout the country, making excavations in countless places, with negative results among Christians, who did not know give a satisfactory answer to your inquiries. Feeling frustrated, she went on to inquire among the Jews until she found a Jew named Judas who – after being bribed with thirty gold denarii – revealed a secret rigorously kept by the Jews who, in order to deprive the Christians of their symbol, had decided to throw to a well the three crosses of Calvary and had covered them with earth.

Saint Helena claimed that the excavations were successful. The three crosses appeared to the great jubilation of Saint Helena. As he did not know which of the three belonged to Christ (and the other two to the thieves), he asked Bishop Demetrio to put the body of a dying Christian on the three uncovered crosses in case God wanted to show the True Cross. The miracle occurred when the poor sick woman was placed on her stretcher on the second of the crosses, who miraculously recovered her health.

The discovery of Queen Elena was not recorded by any writer or historian of the time, neither in Jerusalem nor in Constantinople. Even Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Vita Constantini (‘Life of Constantine’) in which he wrote down all kinds of legends and fables about the emperor and his mother, omitted to tell the greatest miracle of his century: the discovery of the True Cross. of Christ. The first mention of the discovery was written in the 5th century, almost a century after the death of Helen of Constaninople.


As the discovery of the Holy Cross was not yet known at that time, the pious Elena died without the place or date being recorded. His son Constantine arranged to cut his corpse into pieces and salt it (to preserve it without rotting). A section of the corpse was placed with great pomp in the imperial crypt of the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople. Another part was transferred by boat to Rome, where a piece was preserved in the Ara Coeli church, dedicated to Santa Elena, and another piece in the church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (also in Rome). In the place where this church currently stands, the Palatium Sessorianum was formerly located, and nearby were the Helenian Baths, whose baths took their name from the Empress. Here were found two inscriptions composed in honor of Helena. The Sessorium, which was near the Lateran, possibly served as Helena’s residence when she remained in Rome; For this reason it is quite probable that Constantine erected a Christian basilica in this place, at the suggestion of his mother.

It is believed that another piece of the remains were transferred in 849 to the Abbey of Hautvillers, in the town of Reims, as recorded in the record of the monk Altmann in his Translatio. She was revered as a saint, and her veneration spread to the West in the early 9th century.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the residents of the city of Trier (Germany) worshiped a skull, possibly of a young male, with a sign that reads: “Caput Helénae” (‘Helena’s head’), which is preserved to this day .


His festival is commemorated on August 18.

Saint Helena Overview