Saint of the Day – 18 August – St Helena (c 250 – c 330) Empress, Mother of Saint Constantine, Founder of the True Cross of Christ. Patronages – against fire, against thunder, archeologists, converts, difficult marriages, divorced people, dyers, empresses, nail smiths, needle makers, Birkirkara, Malta, Helena, diocese of Montana. Helena ranks as an important figure in the history of Christianity and of the world due to her influence on her son. In her final years, she made a religious tour of Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem, during which she discovered the True Cross.
Helena’s birthplace is not known with certainty. The 6th-century historian Procopius is the earliest authority for the statement that Helena was a native of Drepanum, in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Her son Constantine renamed the city “Helenopolis” after her death around 330, which supports the belief that the city was her birthplace. She married a Roman General, Constantius Chlorus and became the mother of Constantine the Great. She embraced Christianity late in life but her incomparable faith and piety greatly influenced her son Constantine, the first Christian emperor and served to kindle a holy zeal in the hearts of the Roman people. Forgetful of her high dignity, she delighted to assist at the Divine Office amid the poor and by her alms deeds showed herself a mother to the indigent and distressed.
In her eightieth year she made a famous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, with the ardent desire of discovering the cross on which our Blessed Redeemer had suffered. After many labours, three crosses were found on Mount Calvary, together with the names and the inscription recorded by the Evangelists. The pious empress, transported with joy, built a beautiful Basilica on Mount Calvary to receive the precious relic, sending portions of it also to Rome and Constantinople, where they were solemnly exposed to the adoration of the faithful. She built two other famous churches in Palestine to honour the sacred sites of Our Lord’s life, one at the site of His Ascension and the other, known as the Basilica of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, which she and her son richly adorned.
Saint Helen’s influence on her son Constantine is recognised by all historians. He always honoured her in every way. In the year 312, when Constantine found himself attacked by Maxentius with vastly superior forces and the very existence of his western empire was threatened, he remembered the crucified Christian God whom his mother Helen worshipped. Kneeling down, he prayed God to reveal Himself as the supreme God, by giving him an otherwise impossible victory. Suddenly at noonday, a cross of fire was seen by his army in the calm and cloudless sky and beneath it the words, In hoc signo vinces — In this sign thou shalt conquer. By divine command, Constantine made a standard like the cross he had seen, to be borne at the head of his troops. This is the famous banner known as the Roman Labarum. Under this Christian ensign they marched against the enemy and obtained a complete victory.
She died around 330, with her son at her side. She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, below and the statue of her at St Peter’s.