Roman Empress, mother of Constantine I the Great;b. presumably in Drepanon (now Helenopolis), Bithynia, 255; d. Nicomedia, 330. According to St. ambrose she was a servant girl who became the concubine of Constantius Chlorus, was abandoned for political reasons, but was named Augusta by her son constantine i at the beginning of his reign (306). According to Eusebius she became a Christian under Constantine's influence and in 324 made one of the first pilgrimages to the Holy Land (Vita Constantini 3). She exercised an influence on her son's church-building program in Rome (Church of the Holy Cross), in Constantinople (Church of the Apostles), and in Palestine (Church of the Nativity and the Eleona Church on the Mount of Olives). Her body, transported to Rome and originally laid to rest in a splendid mausoleum on the Via Labicana (Tor Pignattara), was later taken to Constantinople. In the ninth century her relics were translated to the Abbey of Hautvilliers. Legend ascribes to her the foundation of the Thebäer Church in Cologne and others in Xanten and Bonn, and the transfer of relics of St. matthias and St. roch to trier. The story of the finding of the holy cross, first mentioned by St. Ambrose, depends on Eusebius (Vita Const. 3.41–47). In Byzantine iconography Helena is depicted together with her son (frequently on coins of the Comneni and Paleologi dynasties) with a crown between them. Since the 15th century she is frequently portrayed with a crown, the model of a church, and the cross and nails; she is honored as a patron in Trier, Bamberg, and Basel.
Feast: Aug. 18 (West); May 21 (East with Constantine).
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[j. h. geiger]