Discoverer of the True Cross and
a Bright Shining Light
250 – 330 A.D.
Discoverer of the True Cross and A Saint for Our Times
FEAST DAY AUGUST 18
Who is Saint Helena and why is she a saint for our times?
Saint Helena is the patron saint of the Diocese of Helena. She is most remembered as the discoverer of the True Cross of Jesus. She might also be called the Saint of Perseverance and the Saint of New Discoveries. Her name means “bright shining light” making her a fitting patroness for our beautiful Montana, “Land of the Bright Shining Mountains.”
Especially relevant for our age, she is the patroness of the divorced and of dysfunctional families. She did not have a happy family life! In the year 292 she was divorced by her husband, Constantius, an ambitious soldier, seeking fame and fortune. He abandoned Helena and their son, Constantine, to marry Theodora, the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximian, to fast-track his political career. Helena was left to raise her son alone in exile and suffered for many years.
In 306, Helena’s son, Constantine became Emperor. He brought his mother to Rome and restored her honor by declaring her Empress and titled her Augusta, which means magnificent and great. Helena’s son was a great military leader and a devoted son; he even had coins minted with the likeness of his mother on them!
In 313, with the Edict of Milan, Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and permanently established religious toleration for Christianity in the Roman Empire, changing the course of world history. He was the first emperor to convert to Christianity, though he didn’t receive baptism until on his deathbed. Soon thereafter, Helena converted to Christianity. She was known for her selflessness and generosity; Helena gave tirelessly to the church, prisoners and the poor. In 324, Helena, an old woman, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and discovered the cross Jesus was crucified upon. She had excavations made and in a dry cistern, three crosses were found. To test which of the crosses was the True Cross, a woman, dying from a terminal disease, was brought to the spot. She touched the crosses, one by one. After she touched the third cross, she was cured, thereby identifying the True Cross. This scene is depicted in the stained glass window of the Cathedral of Helena.
And how did Helena become the patroness of a mining town in Montana? The tradition is that in 1864 a group of citizens met to rename the town from “Last Chance” and, after some disputing about its pronunciation, settled on the name Helena based in honor of Helena Township in Minnesota and/or Helena, Arkansas. Later tales claimed the name came from the Island of St. Helena where Napoleon was exiled or from the name of a miner’s sweetheart. Whatever is the authentic origin of the name of the city of Helena , pray to Saint Helena when friends or family leave you abandoned as they look for "greener pastures". Saint Helena will help you make new discoveries and provide faithful perseverance.
“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee,
because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”