Saint Helena

c. 248-330

Saint Helena, c. 248-330

August 18

Saint Helena or Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta as she was known, was the mother of Constantine the Great. When he was named Emperor, he gave her money and treasure to visit the Holy Land to try to find the places where Jesus lived and died, to build churches, and bring back relics. Helena was delighted to make the long trip to Palestine, even though the journey was long and dangerous.

According to an early writer, Eusebius of Caesarea, once she got there, she built the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem and the Church on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended to heaven. While she was in Jerusalem, she began to excavate at the site of Jesus’ tomb near Calvary. Tradition says that while she was digging, she found three crosses. She had a woman who was dying touch each one in turn. Nothing happened when she touched the first two, but as soon as she touched the third cross, she was healed. Helena took this to be the True Cross of Christ. Constantine ordered that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre be built on the site of the discovery. 

Helena returned to Rome in 327 and spent the rest of her life in prayer and charitable works. It is said that she often attended church dressed in such ordinary clothes that no one recognized her as the mother of the emperor. She died on August 18, 330, and is the patron of archaeologists because of her work digging in the Holy Land.

Discuss: Explain why you think Saint Helena is the patron saint of archeologists.

Religious Art

Saint Helena is often depicted in religious art as an empress holding a cross. Look on the internet to find examples of religious art of Saint Helen and share them with the group.