Category Archives: relics

The Empress Helena and the Holy Cross

Constantine and his mother Helena

Constantine and his mother Helena

Hélèna, mother of the Emperor Constantine, lived in the shadows until the advent of her son, Constantine the Great, in the year of 306. She had had doubtful life in the past because of her  work as being as an inn servant, and later, when her husband Constance Chlore (father of Constantine) became empereur, he rejected her.

The rise of her son Constantine, however, gave her power which allowed her to return to the public life. Like Constantine, she converted to Christianity and lived an active apostolate of the new faith to better establish the Christian empire, still fragile in the fall of 324.

Staying at the imperial court of Treve (city made capital by Constantine until 316) then in Rome, she became a true follower of the new religion. As his power grew, her son proclaimed his mother “Augusta” Empress in year of 324.

It was as an empress that she left Rome to settle in Palestine (326-328). But this journey, under the guise of a pilgrimage, was rather made as a political aim of recognition of Christianity, as established by her son. With his support she had planned to established Christianity iin the Holy Land by finding the holy places. She was guided by the scholar Eusebius of Caesarea. She built the  “Church of the Disciples”, today called the “Pater Noster”, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The holy relics, including the cross of Christ were find on the site of Golgotha.

A temple at the site of the Golgotha (Calvary) was built, bearing the name of “Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher”, in which the relic has been preserved.

In the year 614, during the conquest of Jerusalem by the Persian king Chrosroës, the Holy Cross was stolen. The population was massacred, the prisoners were sold as slaves, churches were burnt. The Holy Cross (or True Cross) was taken to the heart of the Persian Empire and placed at the foot of the king’s throne, as a sign of disdain for Christianity.

This was to become the Grail of the Eastern Roman emperor Heraclius who, after 15 years of struggle, would achieve his ends. The True Cross was returned to Jerusalem on September 14, 628, carried by the emperor in person across the city of Jerusalem.

Therefore, this day is marked in liturgical calendars like that of the Exaltation of the Cross.

To avoid further theft, the Holy Cross was cut into several pieces. One was transported to Rome, one to Constantinople and the third one was placed in a silver chest in Jerusalem. Another piece was divided into very small pieces and distributed in churches around the world bearing the name of Veracruz (the real cross).