Who was Saint Helena?

The feast of St. Helena, Empress, widow, and mother of Constantine the Great, is celebrated on August 18.

Newsroom (August 18, 2021, 19:30 PM, Gaudium Press). The Empress, St. Helena, gave an excellent example to her son, Emperor Constantine. She not only converted him but also made him grant freedom to the Holy Catholic Church. And besides being at the origin of the spread of Christianity from Rome throughout the West, we owe to Saint Helena this priceless gift: the discovery of the true Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Helena rescues the true Cross

At the beginning of the fourth century, an inconceivable abandonment weighed upon the Holy Sites to the extent that the hill of Golgotha was covered with rubble.

Empress Helena had just obtained through her motherly prayers the splendid miracle of the Milvian Bridge and the impressive conversion of her son Constantine, with the consequent freedom for Christianity (October 28, 312). Moved by a strong impulse of grace, she decided to undertake a long journey to Jerusalem to search for the true Cross of Our Lord

St. Helena profoundly understood the meaning of the mysteries. Was the shining cross surrounded by the words In hoc signo vinces (With this sign you will conquer), that appeared in front of the astonished gaze of the young Caesar, a clear enough manifestation of the plans of the Providence? Did it not foresee the triumphant rebirth of the Church through the scandal of the Cross?

The search for the Cross was an arduous undertaking. But not so for the energetic character of the old Empress, not easily discouraged by the misfortunes of life nor by the harsh trials of fate.

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After a few weeks of hard work and much digging, Helen encouraged the workers with her support and prayers. They found three crosses in a pit amid general shock and commotion!

A question arose: how could one recognize the sacred wood on which the Redeemer had suffered his painful agony, bathing it with the last drops of Blood?

Urged on by Helen, Saint Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, immediately came to her aid. He gathered the people and prayed fervently, begging the Lord for an intervention that would be evident to the faithful.

He then sent for a poor woman that the doctors had given up hope for and was about to die. When she came into contact with the first two crosses, the dying woman remained unresponsive. But when she touched the third, she immediately stood up, completely cured, praising God amidst the shouts of joy from the enthusiastic crowd.

The news of the miracle spread quickly throughout the Christian world. Thus began a great devotion to the relics of the Passion.

On her return from her pilgrimage and after building several churches in honor of the Lord’s Passion, she took back a large piece of the Holy Cross, the most valuable part remaining in Jerusalem.

She also brought the five carnations that she had found on the same occasion. She gave them as a gift to her son Constantine, who had one of them placed in the frame of the imperial tiara.

Perhaps this pious gesture is the origin of the beautiful tradition of topping the crowns of Catholic sovereigns with a cross.

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The Basilica of the Nativity

On the initiative of the emperor and his mother, St. Helena, they also built the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the site of the birth of the Child God. They finished the construction in 333.

Two years later, in 335, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was inaugurated in Jerusalem, and St. Helena was personally involved in its construction.

Scala Santa

The Scala Santa is the twenty-eight-step staircase from the Praetorium of Pontius Pilate. It is where Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended on Good Friday to be judged by the Roman governor.

Saint Helena brought back the relic from Jerusalem to Europe in 326 and is currently in a shrine near the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.

St. Helena, through her exemplary virtues, was behind glorious achievements, which still have repercussions today.

Compiled by Ena Alfaro

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