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Saint Helena of Constantine

Saint Helena Augusta (Ἑλένη) was the Empress of the Roman Empire and mother of Saint Constantine the Great.

Saint Helena was a native Greek and was born in Drepanum, then part of the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Very little else is known regarding her early life other than traditions, one of which being that Saint Helena was the daughter of "Old King Cole", making her a British princess. After marrying the emperor Constantius she gave birth to the future emperor and saint Constantine I in 270 AD or 272 AD. She followed her son to the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia where she helped raise her son in the ways of the Empire and helped prepare him for his eventually ascension.

Saint Helena returned to public life following the ascension of Constantine as Emperor. Saint Constantine appointed her Augusta Imperatrix and gave her unlimited access into the Imperial treasury with the mission of locating Christian relics. In 326 she departed for Palestine and was responsible for the construction of two churches - the Church of the Nativity and the Church of Eleona. In Jerusalem she located the site of Jesus's tomb near Calvary and had the temple of Venus that was constructed over it immediately torn down. Furthermore she immediately had excavations begun that would lead the recovery of three crosses. In Eusebius' Life of Constantine there is this description:

"Such is our Saviour's grace, that no power of language seems adequate to describe the wondrous circumstance to which I am about to refer. For, that the monument of his [Christ's] most holy Passion, so long ago buried beneath the ground, should have remained unknown for so long a series of years, until its reappearance to his servants now set free through the removal of him who was the common enemy of all, is a fact which truly surpasses all admiration. I have no greater care than how I may best adorn with a splendid structure that sacred spot, which, under Divine direction, I have disencumbered as it were of the heavy weight of foul idol worship [the Roman temple]; a spot which has been accounted holy from the beginning in God’s judgment, but which now appears holier still, since it has brought to light a clear assurance of our Saviour’s passion."

Saint Helena returned to Rome in 327 AD with large portions of the True Cross and other located relics, many of which were stored in the private chapel of the palace. Her palace in Jerusalem was converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross and is maintained by Cistercian monks. Around the year 330 AD Saint Helena died and was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, just outside Rome on the Via Labicana - her sarcophagus is on display in the Peio-Clementine Vatican Museum.

Saint Helena is a Saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches and is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church with a Feast Day on August 18th. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates her alongside Constantine the Great on May 21st with a feast day named the Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helena, Equal to the Apostles".

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