Feast Day of St. Helena – 21st May

Protector of the Holy Places and original Patronal Saint of Cockshutt Chapelry

Helena should be the patron saint of all mothers who help their sons achieve great things.

Helena was born at Drepanum in Bithynia about 250.  Although only a stable-maid or innkeeper’s daughter, she caught the eye and affections of a Roman general, Constantius Chlorus, while he was stationed in Asia Minor on a military campaign.  She bore him a son, Constantine, in about 272.

However, Constantius was ambitious; when he became co-emperor (Caesar) in the West in 292, he abandoned Helena so that he could marry the stepdaughter of his patron.  Helena and her son were sent to live in the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia, where Constantine grew up as a member of the inner circle.  Helena never remarried and lived close to her son who was devoted to her.

When Constantius died in 306, Constantine became Augustus of the Roman Empire and brought his beloved mother to live at the imperial court.

When Constantine became the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Helena also became a Christian. She was devout, dressed modestly and gave generously to churches, the poor, and prisoners. Nevertheless, Constantine had other plans for her: they agreed that she would help him locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition in Palestine.  To aid her, Constantine gave her the title Augusta Imperatrix and unlimited access to the imperial treasury.

So, from 326-28, even though she was very old, Helena explored the Holy Land on behalf of her son, the Emperor.  She went to Bethlehem and founded the Church of the Nativity.  She went to the Mount of Olives and founded the Church of Eleona.  She went to Calvary and tore down a temple built to Venus over the tomb of Jesus.  Constantine then ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Helena also seems to have founded the chapel at St Catherine’s Monastery.

Helena died in 330 in the Holy Land, with Constantine at her side.  He brought her body back to Constantinople and buried her in the imperial vault in the Church of the Apostles.

To this special mother and son, we owe the honour of the preservation and honouring of the most famous sites of Christianity.


St. Helena plays an important part of the history of Cockshutt Church; when it was little more than a simple wooden structure, nearly 600 years ago, it was dedicated to St. Helena, of whom there is a stained-glass window on the South-Eastern side of the Chancel.


The feature image for this post is “Helena of Constantinople (Cima da Conegliano)”, WikiCommons (P.D.)

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