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On the Kalendar: Helena, Protector of the Holy Places, Mother of Constantine

August from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“August”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

Helena was Empress of the Roman Empire: her husband was Emperor Constantius Chlorus, and her son was Emperor Constantine the Great. although a pagan, Constantine was lenient to Christians, unlike his predecessors. Helena converted to Christianity after her son’s coronation, but Constantine himself did not officially convert until shortly before his death. Constantine gave his mother unlimited access to the imperial treasury to search for relics in the Holy Land. Helena travelled to Palestine where she was responsible for building or restoring several churches: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem the Church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives, the site of Jesus’ ascension; a church in Egypt to mark the site of the burning bush that appeared to Moses; and Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

As part of the excavations, Helena discovered three crosses, one of which was determine to be the one on which Jesus was crucified. She is also said to have found the titulus which Pilate ordered affixed to the cross, and the nails which were used to affix Jesus to the cross. Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site.

Helena is commemorated on her own on 18 August. Some jurisdictions commemorate her on 21 May along with her son Constantine. For her work in restoring important sites and founding churches, she is accorded the title “Protector of the Holy Places”. In the Eastern Church, she and her son are considered “Equal to the Apostles”.

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