May 21 marks the feast of St Helena and Constantine the Great, emperor of Rome.
St Helena is said to be born in Drepana, Asia Minor, modern day Turkey around 248AD. She came from humble beginnings and was called a good stable-maid.
She met Constantius while he was serving in Asia Minor. He saw her as his soulmate. They got married and Helena gave birth to the future emperor Constantine around 270AD.
Constantius divorced Helena in pursuit of a wife that would elevate his rising status. Constantine never left Helena and was very loyal to her. They were sent to Diocletian, Nicomedia where Constantine became a member of the inner circle. He kept Helena close to him.
Helena never remarried.
Constantius died in 308 and Constantine became emperor. He elevated his mother’s title to Augusta and minted coin in her image. She was given free reign over the treasury.
Helena converted to Christianity and convinced Constantine to stop the persecution of Christians. This was the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church. Helena was around 65 years old at the time of her conversion.
For the next 15 years, she built churches and discovered many relics, the greatest of them to be the one true cross of Christ. She had a fondness for the Holy Land and had the church of the nativity in Bethlehem built as well as the Church of Eleona at the Mount of Olives, the site of the Ascension.
Helena destroyed the temple of Venus in Jerusalem then began excavation projects to find the True Cross. Workers found 3 crosses. Helena brought a woman with a terminal illness, she touched the first and second cross. She was still sick. When she touched the third cross, she was cured.
St Helena declared the 3rd cross to be the True Cross of Christ.
St Constantine ordered the church of the Sepulchre to be constructed over the site of the findings.
St Helena continued to find relics throughout her life such as the nails of the cross, Christ’s tunic and pieces of the rope to tie Jesus to the cross.
Eusebius described her as follows: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile.”
She visited churches and donated great sums. She contributed greatly to the spread of Christianity throughout the empire.
She died in 330 with Constantine by her side.
Constantine continued to support the Catholic Church financially, built basilicas, placed Christians in high office, returned property that was confiscated during persecution and legislated that Sunday is a rest day for all citizens.
He summoned the first council of Nicaea which dealt with Arianism and the institution of the Nicene creed.
Constantine was only baptised on his deathbed in 337. He hoped that he would be absolved of sin before death.
St Helena and Constantine, pray for us