kids encyclopedia robot

Helena of Constantinople facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Elena Colosseo Rome Italy.jpg
Seated statue of Helena in Musei Capitolini, Rome
Roman empress
Born c. AD 246/48
Drepanon (later Helenopolis), Bithynia, in Asia Minor
(modern-day Hersek, Altınova, Yalova, Turkey)
Died c. AD 330
Rome, Tuscania et Umbria
(modern-day Italy)
Burial Mausoleum of Helena
Spouse Constantius Chlorus
Issue Constantine I
Full name
Flavia Julia Helena
Regnal name
Flavia Julia Helena Augusta
Dynasty Constantinian
Religion Nicene Christianity

Flavia Julia Helena Augusta (also known as Saint Helena and Helena of Constantinople Greek: Ἑλένη, Helénē; c. AD 246/248– c. 330) was an Augusta and Empress of the Roman Empire and mother of Emperor Constantine the Great.

Helena ranks as an important figure in the history of Christianity. In her final years, she made a religious tour of Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem, during which ancient tradition claims that she discovered the True Cross. The Eastern Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Anglican Communion revere her as a saint, and the Lutheran Church commemorates her.

Early life

Trier fresco, 310 CE
A fresco from Trier, Germany, possibly depicting Helena, c. 310

Helena was a Greek, probably from Asia Minor in modern Turkey. Her birthplace was probably Helenopolis, then Drepanum, in Bithynia. According to historian Eusebius of Caesarea, she was born around 246 to 249.

She came from the lower classes. Bishop Ambrose of Milan, writing in the late 4th century was the first to call her a stabularia, a term translated as "stable-maid" or "inn-keeper".

Both Geoffrey of Monmouth and Henry of Huntingdon promoted a popular tradition that Helena was a British princess and the daughter of "Old King Cole" from the area of Colchester.

Marriage to Emperor Constantius

It is unknown where she first met Constantius. It is said that upon meeting they were wearing identical silver bracelets. Constantius saw her as his soulmate sent by God.

Some historians, such as the historian Jan Drijvers, claim that Constantius and Helena were not officially married, but were in a common-law marriage.

Helena gave birth to the future emperor Constantine I on 27 February of an uncertain year soon after 270 (probably around 272). At the time, she was in Naissus (Niš, Serbia).

Constantius wanted to marry a woman with higher social status. He divorced Helena some time before 289 and married Theodora, a stepdaughter of Emperor Maximian.

Helena never remarried and lived for a time in obscurity at Nicomedia, close to her only son, who had a deep regard and affection for her.

After Constantine's ascension to the throne

Constantine was proclaimed Augustus of the Roman Empire in 306 after his father had died. His mother was brought back to the public life in 312 and returning to the imperial court.

She appears in the Eagle Cameo portraying Constantine's family, probably commemorating the birth of Constantine's son Constantine II in the summer of 316. She received the title of Augusta in 325. She became a Christian soon after her son had become emperor.

Pilgrimage and relic discoveries

Agia Eleni Sille
The church of the Archangel Michael founded by St. Helen in Sille, Konya in Asia Minor in 327
St Helena finding the true cross
Helena finding the True Cross, Italian manuscript, c. 825
Nuremberg chronicles f 130v 1.
St Helena in the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Constantine appointed his mother Helena as Augusta Imperatrix, and gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury. His aim was to locate the relics of the Christian tradition.

In AD 326–28 Helena undertook a trip to Palestine.

On her orders, the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and the Church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives were constructed. A legend attributes to Helena's orders the construction of a church in Egypt to identify the Burning Bush of Sinai.

The chapel at Saint Catherine's Monastery—often referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen—is dated to the year 330.

The True Cross and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Helena of Constantinople (Cima da Conegliano)
Helena of Constantinople by Cima da Conegliano, 1495 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)
Lucas Cranach the Elder - Saint Helena with the Cross - Google Art Project
Saint Helena with the Cross, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525 (Cincinnati Art Museum)

Jerusalem was still being rebuilt following the destruction caused by Titus in AD 70. Emperor Hadrian had built during the 130s a temple to Venus over the supposed site of Jesus' tomb near Calvary, and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina.

Helena ordered to destroy the temple and chose a site to begin excavating.

Legend states that she had a revelation in a dream. She was told that she should make a bonfire and that the smoke would show her where the true cross was buried. So she ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and make a huge pile. After adding frankincense to it, the bonfire was lit and the smoke rose high up to the sky and returned to the ground, exactly to the spot where the Cross had been buried.

Three different crosses were recovered. According to the legend, the empress performed a test. She had a woman who was near death brought from the city. When the woman touched the first and second crosses, her condition did not change, but when she touched the third and final cross she suddenly recovered, and Helena declared the cross with which the woman had been touched to be the True Cross.

On the site of discovery, Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Churches were also built on other sites detected by Helena.

Helena is also claimed to have found the nails of the crucifixion. To use their miraculous power to aid her son, Helena allegedly had one placed in Constantine's helmet, and another in the bridle of his horse. According to one tradition, Helena acquired the Holy Tunic on her trip to Jerusalem and sent it to Trier.


Several relics purportedly discovered by Helena are now in Cyprus, where she spent some time. Among them are items believed to be part of Jesus Christ's tunic, pieces of the holy cross, and pieces of the rope with which Jesus was tied on the Cross.

The rope, considered to be the only relic of its kind, has been held at the Stavrovouni Monastery, which was also said to have been founded by Helena.


Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in 327 to return to Rome. She broight large parts of the True Cross and other relics with her. They were then stored in her palace's private chapel and can be still seen today.

Her palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the church for centuries.

Death and burial

Helena died around 330, with her son at her side.

She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, next to the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Constantina (Saint Constance). However, in 1154 her remains were replaced in the sarcophagus with the remains of Pope Anastasius IV, and Helena's remains were moved to Santa Maria in Ara Coeli.


Helena of Constantinople
Saint Helena.jpg
Statue of Saint Helena in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, Italy
Empress, Mother of Saint Constantine, Equal to the Apostles, Protector of the Holy Places
Venerated in
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine The shrine to Saint Helena in St. Peter's Basilica
  • 18 August (Catholic Church)
  • 21 May (Orthodox and most Anglican and Lutheran Churches)
  • 19 May (some Lutheran Churches)
  • 22 May (Episcopal Church)
  • Tuesday after third Sunday of Pentecost (Armenian Apostolic Church)
  • 9 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox Church)
Attributes Crown
Patronage archaeologists, converts, difficult marriages, divorced people, empresses, Saint Helena island, new discoveries, Noveleta, Cavite
Brosen icon constantine helena
Eastern Orthodox Bulgarian icon of Saint Constantine and Saint Helena

Helena is considered as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern and Roman Catholic churches, as well as by the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Churches.

Her feast day as a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church is celebrated with her son on 21 May. Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church and in Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate falls on 18 August. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons.

Some Anglican and Lutheran churches keep the 21 May date. Helena is honored in the Church of England on 21 May but in the Episcopal Church on 22 May.

In the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, the feast of Meskel, which commemorates her discovery of the cross, is celebrated on 17 Meskerem in the Ethiopian calendar (September 27, Gregorian calendar, or on 28 September in leap years). The holiday is usually celebrated with the lighting of a large bonfire, or Demera.

Uncovering of the Precious Cross and the Precious Nails (Roodmas) by Empress Saint Helen in Jerusalem falls on 6 March.

She is also commemorated every Bright Wednesday along with the saints from Mount Sinai, by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in America.

Satue of Saint Helen
Baroque statue of "Santa Liena" in the 2011 village festa procession of Birkirkara, Malta


Her alleged skull is displayed in the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. Portions of her relics are found at the basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli in Rome, the Église Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles in Paris, and at the Abbaye Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers.

The church of Sant'Elena in Venice claims to have the complete body of the saint enshrined under the main altar.

Interesring facts about Helena of Constantinople

  • Her name is inscribed on coins as Flavia Helena, Flavia Julia Helena and sometimes Aelena.
  • She is sometimes known as Helen of Constantinople to distinguish her from others with similar names, and is "Ilona" in Hungarian, and "Liena" in Malta.
  • Her son Constantine renamed the city Bithynia to "Helenopolis" after her death around AD 330.
  • There was also a Helenopolis in Palestine and a Helenopolis in Lydia. These cities, and the province of Helenopontus in the Pontus, were probably all named after Constantine's mother.
  • Helena was about 80 on her return from Palestine.
  • According to tradition, Helena is responsible for the large population of cats in Cyprus. Local tradition holds that she imported hundreds of cats from Egypt or Palestine in the fourth century to rid a monastery of snakes. The monastery is today known as "St. Nicholas of the Cats" (Greek Άγιος Νικόλαος των Γατών) and is located near Limassol.
  • 135 churches in England were dedicated to her, many in around the area of Yorkshire.
  • At least twenty-five holy wells currently exist in the United Kingdom dedicated to a Saint Helen.
  • She is also the patron saint of Abingdon and Colchester, Great Britain.
  • St Helen's Chapel in Colchester was believed to have been founded by Helena herself, and since the 15th century, the town's coat of arms has shown a representation of the True Cross and three crowned nails in her honour.
  • Helena is the patron saint of new discoveries.

Later cultural traditions

In British folklore

In Great Britain, later legend, mentioned by Henry of Huntingdon but made popular by Geoffrey of Monmouth, claimed that Helena was a daughter of the King of Britain, Cole of Colchester, who allied with Constantius to avoid more war between the Britons and Rome. She was brought up in the manner of a queen, as she had no brothers to inherit the throne of Britain, where Constantine picked up his Christianity. Constantine was with his father when he died in York, but neither had spent much time in Britain.

The statement has no historical foundation, though.

Filipino legend and tradition

Flores de Mayo honors her and her son Constantine for finding the True Cross with a parade with floral and fluvial themed parade showcasing her, Constantine and other people who followed her journey to find the True Cross. Filipinos named the parade Sagala.

Medieval legend and fiction

In medieval legend and chivalric romance, Helena appears as a persecuted heroine, separated from her husband. She lives a quiet life, supporting herself on her embroidery, until such time as her son's charm and grace wins her husband's attention and so the revelation of their identities.

Modern fiction

Helena is the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh's 1950 novel Helena. She is also the main character of Priestess of Avalon (2000), a fantasy novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson. She is given the name Eilan and depicted as a trained priestess of Avalon.

Helena is also the protagonist of Louis de Wohl's novel The Living Wood (1947) in which she is again the daughter of King Coel of Colchester. In the 2021 novel Eagle Ascending by Dan Whitfield she is depicted as having lived to age 118 as result of the powers of the True Cross.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Helena de Constantinopla para niños

kids search engine
Helena of Constantinople Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.