1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Helena, St

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HELENA, ST (c. 247-c. 327) the wife of the emperor Constantius I. Chlorus, and mother of Constantine the Great. She was a woman of humble origin, born probably at Drepanum, a town on the Gulf of Nicomedia, which Constantine named Helenopolis in her honour. Very little is known of her history. It is certain that, at an advanced age, she undertook a pilgrimage to Palestine, visited the holy places, and founded several churches. She was still living at the time of the murder of Crispus (326). Constantine had coins struck with the effigy of his mother. The name of Helena is intimately connected with the commonly received story of the discovery of the Cross. But the accounts which connect her with the discovery are much later than the date of the event. The Pilgrim of Bordeaux (333), Eusebius and Cyril of Jerusalem were unaware of this important episode in the life of the empress. It was only at the end of the 4th century and in the West that the legend appeared. The principal centre of the cult of St Helena in the West seems to be the abbey of Hautvilliers, near Reims, where since the 9th century they have claimed to be in possession of her body. In England legends arose representing her as the daughter of a prince of Britain. Following these Geoffrey of Monmouth makes her the daughter of Coel, the king who is supposed to have given his name to the town of Colchester. These legends have doubtless not been without influence on the cult of the saint in England, where a great number of churches are dedicated either to St Helena alone, or to St Cross and St Helena. Her festival is celebrated in the Latin Church on the 18th of August. The Greeks make no distinction between her festival and that of Constantine, the 21st of May.

See Acta sanctorum, Augusti iii. 548-580; Tixeront, Les Origines de l'église d'Édesse (Paris, 1888); F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England's Patron Saints, i. 181-189, iii. 16, 365-366 (1899).

 (H. De.)