Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
QUEEN OF CONSTANTIUS CHLORUS.
Daughter of Coel, the Hawk-faced—Particulars of her birth—Her accomplishments and virtues—Constantius in Britain—Carausius—Romantic stories of Helena—Disputes as to her birth—Colchester claims the honour—She marries Constantius—Her children—Reverses—Galerius and Valeria—Constantius and Theodora—Maximian—Helena's self-devotion—Empty honours—Constantine at Rome—The four Empires—York—Character of Constantius—Persecution of Christians—Theodora's children—Constantia—Death of Constantius—Excellent conduct of Helena to Theodora—Power she enjoyed—Fausta and her father—The Plot discovered, and its punishment—Policy of Helena—Expedition of Constantine against Maxentius—The Cross—Conversion of the Emperor—Cities founded in honour of Helena—Helena's writings—Tragedy of Fausta and her son—Helena undertakes the care of the children of the Emperor—At eighty, Helena undertakes her journey to the East—The finding of the Cross—Relics—Her death—Honours to her memory—Traces of Helena in Britain—Her Causeway.
"Coell ruled the realme in lawe and peace full well,
A doghter had he, and none other heyre,—
Eleyn that hight, farre passing good and fayre."
" Of all the Christian world, that Empress most renowned,
Constantius' worthy wife."—Drayton's Poly Olbion.
IN such terms as these are we introduced by the poets to the Empress Queen, St. Helena, whose fine character and whose romantic history afford a most brilliant and pleasing subject for biography.
Coel, [Harding, Rennet, Baronius, Lewis, Polydore, Virgil, Baleus, and many others, assert that Helen was daughter of Coel, King of the Britons.] King of the Britons, the father of Helena, by some surnamed "the Hawk-Faced," began to reign over that portion of territory known in the present day as Essex and Hertfordshire, in the year 238, [Colchester Chronicle.] and added the principality of North Wales to his dominions shortly after, by his marriage with Seradwen, its heiress, a princess descended of the royal house of Eudda, [Sir John Price, Warrington, Rowlands.] whence in still later times came the—
"Pendragon kings of Uther's royal race,"
amongst whom was the celebrated Arthur.
The wife of Coel was the only daughter of Cadfan, son of Conan ap Eudda, King of Wales.
It is supposed by some writers that one daughter alone was born to the royal pair, the princess afterwards known as St. Helena; there were, however, three children; of whom the eldest was Tiboen, or Helena; the second, Guala, the British name of Julia; and the third, a prince who bore the maternal family designation of Conan. [Or, Cenan ap Coel; Rowland's Mona Antiqua.] Of this prince, who, on his father's death, retired, to govern over the northern territories acquired by his mother Seradwen, which are placed by one of our writers [Carte, Gibbon.] at the wall of Antoninus, history almost entirely loses sight in following the more splendid fortunes of his two royal sisters, Helena and Julia; the one destined to create a new line of Emperors in the Roman world; the other, to transmit to her descendants that imperial dignity, which, through the royal current of the Pendragon family, descended to Cadwallader, the last British Prince of Wales of Roman descent, and passed on to the family of Tudor, of which Henry the Seventh was the first, and our present Sovereign Lady, Victoria, the latest royal representatives.
[The following table exhibits the House of Eudda:—
Eudda, King of North Wales.
Kynan, son of Eudda.
Cadfan, son of Kynan. Caradoc, brother of Cadfan.
Coel Godebog,=Seradwen, only daughter of Cadfan.
to Seradwen. l
Ellen Lueddog. Guala. Kenan, son of Coel.
In this table (taken from Owen's Pedigrees) the name of Ellen Lueddog is substituted for that of Tiboen, or Helen, used by Mr. Rowlands, and for Dyfyn, the name attributed by Sir John Price to her.]
Helena was a name derived from the Greek, signifying "pitiful," and given in later times to Coel's daughter, by the Romans, on account of her compassionate disposition. Her true British name was Tiboen, [In the north of England, Tibby is still used as an abbreviation of Helen.] thus written in some Welch lines quoted by Mr. Rowlands:—
"Tiboen ferch Coel Godebog
I Gred a gafoad y Grog."
Many other titles were borne by this excellent princess, such as the surname of "Lueddog," and the noble name of Flavia obtained on her marriage with Constantius, the descendant of Vespasian, who derived it from that Emperor, through his own great-uncle, Claudius Gothicus. The title of Augusta was added when Helena was made Empress; consequently, by some historians she is called Flavia Julia Helena Augusta; her brilliant fortunes towards the close of her long career acquired her, moreover, the epithets of "the Prosperous" and "the Powerful;" and to crown the virtue and piety of this memorable princess with the highest distinction, the religious of after-ages have awarded to her the veneration of a saint; so that the name of St. Helena has descended to us with more than mere mortal celebrity.
Roman and British writers differ in many particulars respecting the life of the daughter of Coel. Those Greek and Latin authors who were her contemporaries, writing with the party-spirit of their times, have testified a partiality to the side of their own country, whenever its honour became placed in collision with that of Britain. As regards the history of a princess of British birth, the testimonials of her native historians are probably most to be depended upon, and may be considered as surer guides to truth.
The principal evidence extant, respecting the birth of St. Helena, is that of the "Colchester Chronicle," preserved in that city. According to this document, her birth took place at Colchester, about A.D. 242, four years after her father mounted the throne. [Morant's Colchester, Baleus, Lewis.] This testimony is not only, universally admitted by British historians, and confirmed by foreign writers, but borne out by the local traditions of that neighbourhood; for from ages past, even to the present day, it has been the boast of the inhabitants of Colchester, that St. Helena was born there; and in commemoration of the holy cross which she afterwards discovered, the arms of the town are a knotty cross between four crowns. [The following is the entry in the beginning of the ancient Record Book of that city, commonly called the Oath Book, which by the hand appears to have been written about the beginning of Edward III.'s reign; A.D. 242, Helena filia Coelis nascitur in Colocestria." Morant's Colchester, Baleus, Geoffrey of Monmouth.]
The erroneous idea taken up by some authors, of Helena being an only child, seems to have arisen from the superior pains bestowed on her education by her father, who destined her to become his successor on the throne. To be Queen of the Britons, even then, was a high and glorious destiny; but Coel could scarcely have imagined to what an eminence she would rise, when he predicted, from the precocity of Helena's talents, the distinction she would attain; and, in consequence, determined that her brother and sister should receive as their inheritance his northern states, [At a later period, probably after Cenan ap Coel's death, the Princess Julia, marrying Edern ap Padarn, a northern prince, inherited her mother's Welsh estates.—Owen's Pedigrees.] and the southern be appropriated to her, his eldest-born. Coel, however proud of her acquirements, could not then have contemplated, in this favourite child, the future Roman Empress,—one with whose name all the Roman as well the British Empire, should resound; nor could he dream that the daughter of a Pagan prince should lead the bright procession of Christian converts onward to an immortal and imperishable kingdom, unlike his, never to pass away I Yet such was the career marked out by Heaven for the Empress Queen of Constantius, the daughter of the British Coel. [Leland, Camden, Glastonbury Historian, &c. Among those who call Helena a native of Britain, without naming Colchester, were Butler, Polydore Vergil, and Flavius Julius Dexter. St. Ambrose, Cedrenus, Nicephorus, cited by Gibbon, and other modern writers, deny that she was a native of Britain. Camden tells us, only one author states she was born at Naissus; and Drake calls her a native of York, from a speech made by some English orators at the councils of Constance and Basil,—an opinion, he thought, which received confirmation from the anonymous panegyrist of her son Constantine.]
Gifted by nature in a preeminent degree, Helena's beauty surpassed that of any of the British maidens, her companions; [Owain's Chronicle.] she possessed, moreover, "an innate brightness of wit, eloquence of speech, and elegant manners," which added still greater charms. [Baleus.] In a knowledge of the liberal arts, she is said not only to have surpassed her own countrywomen, but those of every other nation; and she was particularly distinguished by her taste for music, in which she had attained great proficiency. Spenser, in his "Faerie Queene," thus celebrates the praises of our Island Princess, whom he calls
"Fayre Helena, the fairest living wight,
Who in all godly themes and goodly praise
Did far excell, but was most famous hight
For skill in musicke of all in her daies,
As well in curious instruments as cunninge laies."
There seems to be no doubt that Helena was both a musician and a poetess, for certain literary works attributed to her are even now said to be extant; among which are noted a volume of Greek poems,—for Helena was deeply read in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin lore. [Caxton.] Even a royal lady of modern times might have been proud of the compliments lavished on the daughter of Coel by historians; one calling her "both fair, and wise, and good, and well lettered," [Holinshed.] while another designates her a noble lady and a learned." [Ibid.]
She had arrived at her eighteenth year [Geoffrey of Monmouth.] when the event occurred which drew her forth from her studious life, and shed the first bright ray on the path of her future greatness. This was her marriage to Constantius, at that time only in the dawn of his own rising fortunes.
Flavius Valerius Constantius, surnamed "Chlorus," according to some historians, from the green garments be wore in childhood, or from his pale complexion, was of imperial descent, his mother Claudia being niece of the Emperor Claudius Gothicus. [Vie de Constantin; Leigh's Choice Observations.] His father, a noble lord of Illyria, was a native of Naissus, the capital of the Dardanian nation, which consisted of a great part of Moesia, and there the earliest years of Constantius were passed. There also the orders of Aurelian, under whom the youth first bore arms, reached him. For these reasons the city was, in after-times, embellished by the filial affection of his son, Constantine the Great, with many noble buildings.
Though Aurelian never visited Britain in person, he was a great deal in Gaul during the wars with the usurpers; and Constantius also was there, no doubt, at that time, having entered the army at the age of fourteen, and being at the time of Aurelian's accession in his twentieth year, A.D. 270. Three years after, when Zenobia and Tetricus were being paraded in Rome, in the triumphal procession of Aurelian, Constantius was distinguishing himself, and obtained a great victory for the Romans, at Vindomessa, in Switzerland. He afterwards was known as the "conqueror of Spain," [John Rous, Colchester Chronicle, Geoffrey of Monmouth.] and was received into the body-guard of Probus. On the defeat of Bonosus and Proculus, by a singular coincidence we find Constantius, Carus, Dioclesian, and Maximian, walking together in triumphal procession into the Roman capital, each of whom were subsequently raised to the empire. Constantius afterwards commanded a legion as Tribune; and the Emperor Carus, who made him Governor of Dalmatia, had some thoughts of naming him his successor, instead of the worthless Carinus, his son. After Carinus and Numerican, sons of Carus, the empire devolved on Dioclesian, A.D. 284. It was to oppose Carinus that Dioclesian first created Maximian Caesar; and afterwards, on the death of that Emperor, he saluted him as his own colleague and partner in the imperial dignity, A.D. 286. [Butler, Gibbon.]
According to Platina, Constantius obtained a great victory in Gaul, under Probus, when several thousand German mercenaries were slain, through his bravery in renewing the fight after an unsuccessful engagement; and, in consequence, peace was restored to the province. It is certain that his uncle Claudius fought against the Gauls under Posthumus. The same author dates this event in A.D. 281, in which year Maximian Herculeus is said to have made himself master of Britain, it being ten years after Carausius was slain. We find that Dioclesian sent Maximian into Gaul to quell an insurrection, about two years before the creation of the Caesars (Constantius and Galerius), and that he was afterwards created Augustus by Dioclesian. [Platina.]
There seems every likelihood that in this campaign Constantius acted in co-operation with Maximian, but there is an error as to the date, as the victory of Probus occurred many years earlier, and most likely that was the date of Helena's marriage. There seems no doubt that it was during the wars of the Empire against the usurpers in Gaul that Constantius paid his first visit to Britain.
One of the most formidable enemies of Rome at this period was Carausius, a man of great bravery, but mean birth, employed by the Empire to guard the frontiers of Britain from invasion. Maximian, then associated with Dioclesian, who had ordered him to be stationed at Boulogne for that purpose, finding he had turned the power invested in him to his own advantage, ordered him to be put to death; but Carausius escaped into Britain, where having many followers, he assumed the purple, and caused himself to be proclaimed Emperor. Maximian, unable to contend at the time until a fleet was prepared, permitted him to continue in his assumed power; and at this time Carausius boldly issued a medal, associating himself with Dioclesian and Maximian, of which the legend was—" THE PEACE OF THE THREE AUGUSTI." [Hoffman's Univ Lexicon.] After several years, Allectus was sent to reduce him to dependence on the Empire; but that traitor, uniting in his schemes, at first governed in his name, and afterwards betrayed and killed him, and ruled in his own behalf for the space of three years as Augustus. The Britons, oppressed by the tyranny of Allectus, placed themselves under the command of Asclepiodatus, [Bran ap Lyr, or Asclepiodatus, (Rowland's Mona. Antiq.) began to reign A.D. 232, and his power lasted thirty years; he much injured the Roman authority, and the news of his death gave great joy at Rome. (Holinshed.) The sister of Asclepiodatus was called Bronwen, the White-Necked; and Harlech Castle was anciently called Tor Bronwen, because it was the place of her abode. (Pennant's Snowden.)
Carausius, keeping for his own use the booty he took from the Saxon pirates, made Maximian think that he connived at their piracies. The wealth earned by his exploits and reputation caused him to be hailed Augustus by the Britons. He is said to have built vessels of war, and the many medals struck by him, impressed with various devices and inscriptions, testify the pomp and splendour of his reign. One of the coins of Carausius bears the ensigns of the Eternal City; and, as Sir F. Palgrave remarks, "it is very remarkable that the wolf and the twins are copied upon the rude mintage of Ethelbert, the Bretwalda or Emperor of Anglo-Saxon Britain."] who, after slaying Allectus, assumed the supreme power for a time, and in his turn was doomed to fall in a contest with Coel, father of St. Helena.
The deceased Asclepiodatus was a Briton by birth, and by descent Duke of Cornwall: [Carew's Survey of Cornwall.] he was also a praetorian praefect, and led the Roman fleet; so that both he and his predecessor, Allectus, had assumed the supreme power in the Roman name. When, therefore, Coel conquered Asclepiodatus, it became necessary to vindicate the Empire, for he was not only a Briton, but king by ancient right of descent; and the Romans, fearing all authority in the island would cease to exist, despatched Constantius Chlorus to redeem their tarnished honour, and revive the laurels of his country.
Coel, having openly become, by the train of circumstances just detailed, the enemy of Rome, [John Rous, Morant.] Constantius, on his arrival, proceeded to lay siege to the city of Colchester, the capital of his dominions, which, as some say, was bravely defended for three years, but at length relieved, upon the Roman general entering into a treaty with the King for the hand of his daughter, "the fayre Helena." Some relate that Coel, knowing that Constantius was "a wise and bold man," [John Rous.] and noted for bravery, sent, on his own part, ambassadors, to offer peace and submission to the Roman power, provided he was allowed to retain his kingdom, on payment of the usual tribute. With this Constantius complied, and Coel confirmed the treaty, by bestowing on the general the hand of his daughter [Geoffrey of Monmouth, John Rous, Warrington, Morant.] when "Constantius espoused her with much honour." [Caxton.]
A romantic, but somewhat improbable, incident has been related of the first introduction of Constantius and Helena. It is said that the nurse, or "attendant maiden," of the princess, dreading the dangers to which her youth and beauty might be exposed, if she were beheld by any of the lawless soldiers of the Roman army then besieging the city, disguised her young mistress in humble attire as a poor maiden, and concealed her in the house of a countryman; but the precaution was in vain. The chance of war conducted Constantius to her retreat, who was so charmed with Helena, that he carried her off. On discovering, however, much to his surprise, that she was the King's daughter, he made her his wife.
To this important incident, if it really did occur, may be attributed some of the stories which have been circulated to the disadvantage of Helena, disputing the legality of her union with Constantius. The Colchester Chronicle itself mentions her, in some instances, as "Concubina;" and it becomes rather an important question, to inquire into the exact particulars of her union with Constantius.
The word "concubina" is sometimes used "in bonem Partem" for a wife as well as a concubine, and, in relation to Helena's tie, simply meant a lady of inferior dignity to the daughter of Maximian, whom Constantius espoused at an after-date. Marianus Scotus, who boldly defends Helena, says that she who was "a King's daughter, a Caesar's wife, and an Emperor's mother, was no concubine." Two authors, however, have stigmatised her memory with this accusation—Julian, the apostate, and Zosimus; of whom the former was an Emperor of Rome, who tried, by every means in his power, to subvert the attempts made by Helena and her son Constantine to establish the Christian faith; the latter a Greek historian and a pagan, who is noted by ecclesiastical writers, as remarkable for the prejudice with which he has treated the Christian Emperors, and especially for his severity towards Constantine the Great. [Aikin's Biography.] St. Ambrose, the only respectable witness against Helena, [Crevier.] asserts a startling fact, that Helena was first seen by Constantius in his march from Persia (when passing through Nicomedia), at an inn in the little town of Drepanum, where he had fixed his quarters. [St. Ambrose and Nicephorus both relate the same story, and the former has been copied by several French writers.] Had this circumstance been known to Zosimus, the declared enemy of Constantine, he would not have failed to make use of it. Several other historians say, that the union of Constantius with Coel's daughter was not legal. [Eusebius, Orosius, St. Jerome, Cassiodorus, and Bede.] The author of the History of Colchester, adopting the record of that city, says: "The constant tradition amongst us has always been, that Helena had by Constantius her son Constantine born before marriage; but, soon after the birth, he married her, and adopted him." This tradition, preserved in the old British memoirs, is published by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and other authors of various times and nations, of whom Michael Alford, who wrote expressly on the subject, cites no less than seventy. [Morant.]
There are, on the other hand, many who declare Helena to have been the lawful wife of Constantius. That elaborate writer, Mr. Butler, in his memoir, says, "it is certain she was married to him;" [At Naples is still extant an inscription, in which Helena is styled the wife of Constantius. In two others, to be seen in Gruter, she is distinguished with the title of Augusta, which was never given, as is well known, to a concubine.] and Crevier, in his "Lives of Roman Emperors," speaks thus on this important point: "Some, even Christian authors, have disputed the marriage of Constantius, and thus rendered illegitimate the birth of Constantine. But, in reality, this opinion seems to have had no other foundation [Some writers call Helena "obscuri generis." Julius Flavius Dexta calls her "a chief woman of Britain," and Mr. Lewis, "a king's daughter," denying the assertion of her mean origin. As her father was "master of the horse to the Emperor," some have called her a housekeeper's daughter; from that arose the title of "Comes Stabuli, or constable" (Lewis); but others again designate her as Stabularia, from her having built a church afterwards over the manger in which our Lord was laid at his birth. As well as the encomiums of historians on her virtue, she was, according to Polydore Vergil, "a very virtuous woman." See other authors, who speak of her in terms which could not have been bestowed on one who was exceptionable in one of the first of woman's attributes.] than Helena's being of greatly inferior rank to her husband. [Gibbon dismisses the question by saying, "We are obliged to confess that Helena was the daughter of an innkeeper."] That excepted, everything conspires to make us look upon her as united to Constantius by a lawful alliance; the distinction which Constantine always enjoyed at Dioclesian's court, where he held the first rank next to the Emperor; the very circumstance of his being an hostage, which supposes him to have been dear to his father as a son destined to succeed him; and the great encomiums given by panegyrists to the chastity of Constantius, whom his son is praised for having imitated, which make it probable that Constantine was the legitimate son of Constantius Chlorus." Indeed, had any further proof of this been wanting, it was furnished afterwards by an address made to Constantine himself, on the occasion of his marriage to Fausta, daughter of Maximian, by his learned and elegant, but unknown panegyrist, who speaking of Constantius, says: "He had freed the provinces of Britain from slavery; you ennobled them by your origin!"
The enemies of her faith sought thus to disparage her memory; but the fact of a Roman Emperor, as Constantius afterwards became, having espoused a British woman, was, in those days, sufficiently extraordinary to create comments on the legality of the tie. Gwenissa, daughter of Claudius, is not even named by Roman writers, in their disdainful contempt of her alliance with the British Arviragus; and Helena's son is stigmatized as illegitimate, no doubt from similar reasons. The daughter of Coel was held to be a match beneath the dignity of the Roman name; yet it is not impossible that hers was what is yet known as a Handfast marriage in Scotland, the country from the neighbourhood of which her mother came, and that this had given colour to the account of her son's illegitimacy. That Helena possessed great attractions, even in the eyes of one of the most wise and accomplished senators of Rome, is unquestioned; and the gentleness and amiability of Constantius in times of peace, as renowned as his bravery in war, must have confirmed the attachment of the island princess. Ample testimonials exist of the tender affection which subsisted between them, an affection still more strongly cemented by the birth of a son, to be afterwards known as Constantine the Great, [Platina's Lives of the Popes.] a title bestowed on him for his many shining talents and great actions. Whether Britain or Dacia [That Britain was Helena's own birthplace and that of her son Constantine is, according to Camden, "what all historians who have written on that subject, except Cedrenus and Nicephorus, affirm with one voice." Julius Fermicus, a Christian writer, who lived soon after the death of Constantius, says, in his work "On the Error of Profane Religion," that Constantine was born at Tarsus, near Nicomedia, in Bithynia, a town of Dacia. Others fix his birth at Naissus, near the Dardanelles (Bayle's Dictionary); but there the son is confounded with the father. (See Camden and Butler.)] was the birthplace of this prince has been a subject of dispute, literary and national, as well it might, for honours are coveted by all; but the general opinion is that Constantine was born at Colchester, the native city of Helena, and can consequently be claimed as British. This would never have been questioned, but that Helena, subsequently to her marriage, at times accompanied her husband in his foreign campaigns. Nor is it the least convincing proof of the legality of Helena's tie with Constantius, that the latter entrusted this son, the child of his dearest affections, to the maternal care of Helena for his education, knowing that her enlightened and cultivated mind fitted her for so arduous a task.
It is an acknowledged fact, that in the history of nearly all those individuals who have attained an eminent distinction for great or good qualities, the hand of a mother may be traced as implanting the first seeds which riper years have matured. How honourable was the appellation of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi! How high a lustre is still shed on the name of Helena—when added to it is that title which speaks volumes in her praise—the mother of Constantine the Great!
Mr. Morant, in his History of Colchester, says, the city walls were most probably built in the times of the Romans. He remarks, "the west wall reached as far as St. Helen's Lane. On the north and east side the castle was secured by a ditch and rampart of earth. This rampart is thrown up upon a wall that formerly encompassed either the castle or the palace of Coel, on the site whereof the castle is built, the buttresses, and other parts of which, have been lately discovered." That Colchester had strong walls and a castle subsequent to this period, is a fact attested by the remains of both, even in the present day. The castle was built by Edward the Elder, who also repaired the city walls; and, says the same writer, "if there were any remains of Coel's palace, he might perhaps bestow some pains in repairing that too, and making it a kind of fortification. The present castle was built after the Norman Conquest."
As the walls of London are said to have been built by Helena about this date, [Miscellaneous History. The creeks about Colchester and the Mersey Island are celebrated for their fine oyster-beds: this fact alone rendered it a favourite residence with the Romans. It was from this people we first learnt the art of fattening our oysters in artificial beds, the feeding-pits being first invented about ninety years before Christ, and the place where they were first constructed was upon the shore of Baiae. Even as early as the reign of Vespasian, the British oyster was deemed famous among their luxurious Roman conquerors, and thought worthy to be carried into Italy. (Whittaker; Britton and Brayley.)] Colchester was very probably fortified at the same time; for Constantius would naturally be anxious to defend his capital against the hostile incursions of neighbouring princes. Many writers attribute the walls of Colchester to Helena rather than to her father, [Stowe, John Rous.] and it is beyond question that Constantius, who displayed great talent in architectural designs, assisted his consort in the undertaking. Britain is said to have owed many of her public works and ornaments to Constantius, who invited over architects from abroad to assist in carrying out his plans for the advantage of the people and security of the Roman government. The city of Worcester is said to be of his foundation. [Green's History of Worcester.] It is not, therefore, surprising that the oldest parochial church in the city should bear the name of St. Helen. Chlorendon Park, near Sarum, in Wiltshire, received from him its name of "Chloren," which, some say, had been given him by the Britons on account of his wearing a long train which was carried after him, this being the toga or robe which betokened his rank as a senator of Rome. Chlorendon, now Clarendon Park, says Mr. Kennet, "is a park the size of which exceeds any park in the kingdom; in the north part of which, next Chloren, is a church covered over with ivy, called Ivy Church; and to give credit to a late poet, the park had in it twenty groves, each of which was a mile in compass, and it contained a house of the king's within it, but long since dilapidated." In the time of Constantius, a fortification was built by that prince on the side of the down near Sarum, of which the ramparts are yet remaining; it bore the name of Chloren, like the park in which the Roman King of Britain designed to make his own residence. [One of the groves in Chlorendon Park yet remains to attest its Roman origin, being composed of chesnut. The chesnut was first introduced into Britain from Lydia by our Roman conquerors, and, in all likelihood, first by Constantius himself.]
For some years after Coel's death Constantius remained in Britain, adding improvements for the public benefit, and maintaining the security of the Roman interest. During this interval he paid the customary tribute on his own account to the Roman Emperor. [Lewis.]
Several children were born to the Roman King of Britain; the name of the eldest does not appear. A quarrel had arisen between him and his younger brother Lucius, and he was unhappily killed by the latter; for which Constantius exiled the fratricide from Britain, appointing him to dwell in Aquitaine. The penitent prince subsequently embraced the Christian faith, and entered the Church, first becoming an elder, and afterwards bishop. "He built a house of prayer, in which he and his followers worshipped God." [As this prince's history does not appear again in conjunction with that of Constantius and Helena, it may be named here, that Constantine, his brother, after his own conversion and accession to the empire, promoted Lucius to several ecclesiastical situations; who finally went into Rhetia, accompanied by his sister Emerita, and near the city of Augusta, converted the Curienses to the faith of Christ. He was put to death in the Castor Martis, and buried in the city of Augusta, where his festival was kept on the 3d of December. The truth of these particulars is attested by the abbey founded by Prince Lucius, and an ancient hymn composed to his honour, entitled "Gaude Lucionem." Emerita, daughter of Helen, also was martyred in Trinicastell, where her brother Lucius dwelt. (Hermanus Schedelius, Holinshed.)]
During the interval between the death of Coel and Constantius Mounting his throne in Britain, and that in which he succeeded to the Roman empire, this great man made more than one campaign abroad; and under all the changing vicissitudes of the roving life of Constantius, Helena and her first-born, Constantine, were his constant companions.
The daughter of Coel afterwards accompanied her husband in his campaigns abroad. We are expressly informed [By Lewis, in Hist. of Britain.] that Constantius, who "surpassed all others in his endeavours to increase the Roman commonwealth, [John Rous.] accompanied by his wife, Flavia Helena Augusta, passed out of Britain into Germany, attended by an infinite number of Britons, of whom it is thought the city Bretta derived its name." [Lewis.] Constantius was founder of the city of Constantine, in Normandy. The sea adjoining Bithynia, from this Empress also, was called Helenapontus, or Hellespont." [John Rous.]
A period of reverse, however, was at hand, which was destined to throw a deep shade over the mother and son. The details which led to this misfortune must necessarily be given.
About six years after those revolutions in the mighty empire of Rome, which had associated Dioclesian and Maximian in the cares of supreme power, the joint Emperors agreed to elect two Caesars as their colleagues, each of whom, by being appointed ruler over a certain portion of dominions belonging to them, should render assistance in preserving order over their extended empire. The persons on whom their choice fell were Galerius and Constantius, and to the proposed honour about to be conferred one only condition was affixed, one calculated to insure the dignity of those elected, that of each becoming the adopted son, or rather son-in-law, of the two Emperors. It was previously determined by Dioclesian and Maximian, that in case of the newly created Caesars being already married, they should repudiate their wives, and be left free to espouse the imperial brides destined to them. Galerius was originally a shepherd of Illyria, but had afterwards become a soldier of Rome; his character was a mixture of cruelty and bravery. His pride at such an advancement to fortune made him willingly agree to put away from him his wife, for he also was married, and he received the hand of the fair Valeria; by which the general who had led his army before the victory, became second only in rank to his imperial father-in-law Dioclesian, and his colleague. Had his worth been far greater, he might well have been proud of receiving the hand of a bride so amiable as the highly gifted Valeria, who, as well as her mother, stood high in the estimation of the Romans: he dismissed, therefore, without a sigh the partner of his humbler fortunes, and took his new honours cheerfully. With Constantius Chlorus the circumstances were different in all respects.
The beautiful Flavia Theodora was not indeed the daughter of Maximian, but of his wife, the Empress Galeria Valeria Eutropia, by a noble Syrian who had died shortly after the birth of this, their only child, The widow's beauty had attracted many admirers, and amongst others Herculeus Maximian, who, though in person more calculated to inspire terror than love, was successful in his suit. Eutropia being dazzled by the prospect cf an imperial diadem, as soon as her appointed time for mourning was at an end, gave her hand to Maximian, and the first link was wrought by that step for the future fortunes of Theodora. From that time Rome had two reigning Emperors, and two Empresses had presided over the female world of Rome, Prisca and Eutropia, entirely different in character, though so nearly allied in rank and dignity. Prisca, wife of Dioclesian, adorned the throne by her virtue and good sense, while a Christian by practice as well as precept, she viewed without distrust or jealousy her beautiful rival Eutropia, who, naturally disposed to gaiety and diversion, though she had, at her first elevation, cautiously concealed her levity of character, soon yielded herself up to its dictates. Entirely indifferent to her husband, she encouraged admirers, and allowed the attentions of a handsome Syrian; yet so far was Maximian from resenting Eutropia's conduct, that he appeared blind to this intimacy. His great desire for an heir who might perpetuate the honours of his family was vainly indulged during some years. When, therefore, the infant Maxentius was born, in spite of the evil reports of his wife's fidelity, he hailed the event with transports of joy, and brought the child up with the utmost care and expense as his own son and heir to an empire. The near relationship of Constantius to his Empress was one reason why Maximian had determined to ally him with his daughter-in-law; and he had, moreover, stipulated with Dioclesian that he should become his successor in the Empire. It was known to both, that the person whom their policy selected was already the husband of a British woman of royal lineage, whose inheritance he now enjoyed, and by whom he had, moreover, become father of several children; but it did not enter into their minds to compare the obscure Helena with the brilliant, beautiful, and witty Theodora, or weigh in the same balance the petty throne of a British State with the imperial diadem of Rome!
The struggle was great in the mind of Constantius. Nevertheless the imperial will could not be thwarted, though Constantius betrayed an evident reluctance to the marriage with Theodora; he could not forget that by divorcing himself from Helena, still tenderly beloved, an ignominious stain would be cast on the birth of her young son Constantine, now in the bloom of youth and hope.
It is said that the earnest solicitations of Helena alone decided him; regardless of herself at this trying moment, she was earnest in her exhortations to her husband to accept a step so calculated to promote his present personal advantage. He consented, accordingly, to a separation from Helena; and Dioclesian, by taking every step necessary to give publicity to their divorce, furnished the world with the most conclusive proof that their marriage had been valid. [Platina, in his "Lives of the Popes," says, "Constantine was the son of Constantius by Helena, whom yet he afterwards divorced to gratify Herculeus."] After every necessary step, had been taken, Constantius espoused Theodora at Milan, and was forthwith invested with the government of Gaul, Spain, and Britain, with the enviable title of Caesar, [Every preliminary being settled, the ceremony of inaugurating the new Caesars was performed. On the first day of March, A.D. 292, Dioclesian having assembled the troops in a place about three thousand paces distant from Nicomedia, ascended an eminence, presented Galerius to the soldiery, and, with their consent, invested him with the purple. The same honour was probably conferred on Constantius by Maximian in some one of the cities of Gaul or Italy.
The two Caesars had every attribute of imperial power but the title of August, which remained with Dioclesian and Maximian. They had the tribunitian authority, the name of Emperors, that of Fathers of their Country, and of the high priesthood. Constantius, however, as noblest by birth, though adopted by the second of the Augusti, was considered the first of the two Caesars, and on all public monuments his name, to which he had added that of Herculeus, was placed before that of Galerius. The anonymous author of Constantine's life, published by Valesius, writes in express terms that Constantius divorced Helena to marry Theodora, and Eutropius that Constantine was the fruit of an obscure but lawful matrimony.] for which he had sacrificed so much.
Theodora, shortly after her marriage, returned with him into Britain, accompanied by her mother; but while to her he became, and remained to the last, a faithful, kind and affectionate husband, his feelings towards Helena may be best conceived by the fact of the first act of his newly acquired sovereignty being to present his divorced Queen, the mother of his son, with the robe of imperial purple, by this means testifying to the world, his own sense, that she was in every respect deserving of the high rank to which he had been elevated, and which fortune alone had denied to her.
Notwithstanding this empty honour, the fate of Helena was rendered still more severe, by Constantine being taken from Britain, and from her care, by his father, and placed at the court of Dioclesian, as a hostage for his mother's fidelity to Rome. The jealous caution with which, from that moment, he was watched in all his movements, proves not only his legitimacy, and the regard by which he was esteemed by his parents, but the Emperor's fear, lest sooner or later, like Bonosus and Proculus, he should assume the sovereign power in Britain, to which his birth by Helena, and right as grandson of Coel, justly entitled him. While still an inhabitant of the imperial palace of Dioclesian, the situation of Constantine was evidently that of a dependent guest and suspected captive, a state of bondage exchanged only for a worse, when upon Constantius requesting his son might be permitted to accompany him on his return to Britain, the Emperor, to avoid complying with the desire of the father, sent the prince to join the army in Persia and Egypt under Galerius; [Crevier's Roman Emperors.] there the young Briton distinguished himself in the Egyptian war by his valour during several severe actions; and there, until his father's approaching death recalled him to Britain, he remained, spending the best years of his life in the society of those who were enemies of the Christian faith, which in after-times he was called upon to protect, and separated from the nearest and dearest of his own relatives.
At this time four imperial courts were established in the Roman world, in different directions: that of Dioclesian, who maintained the government of Asia and Africa, and as prior Augustus, had supreme power over the rest of the empire; that of Maximian Herculeus who governed Italy and Spain; of Galerius, who ruled Illyria, Thrace, Macedonia, and Syria; and of Constantius, who had received Gaul and Britain. The latter showed his affection for the country which had given birth to Helena and Constantine, by fixing the seat of his government at York, whither his bride and the Empress, her mother, had accompanied him.
There, while the meek and excellent Helena, with pious fortitude, was mourning in her lonely widowhood, the loss of a beloved husband, and separation from a dearly cherished son, Theodora, at the distance of a few hundred miles, enjoyed the sweet intercourse of daily association in conjugal affection, which Helena had lost, with one who could not have been known without commanding love and reverence. Constantius, indeed, never acquired that surname of "Great," which admiring ages had reserved for his son by Helena, but he certainly merited, by his public virtues, the appellation of "the Good." Apart from his selfish repudiation of Helena, he exhibited many excellent qualities, and was looked upon as the father and friend of the people. [Green, Crevier, Warrington.]
So mild and moderate was the Roman Cesar in his dominion, that during the greater part of his reign tranquillity prevailed in Britain. His habits were regular, and he respected virtue Securely resting on the affections of the people, who loved him for his own goodness, and anxiety to promote their happiness, Constantius did not consider it necessary to exhibit the pomp and ostentation of the Roman Emperors; so great an admirer was he of simplicity, that when he did give an entertainment, he borrowed of his friends plate to furnish his table: one of the sayings ascribed to him was this, "that he had rather the riches of the state should be dispersed in several hands than locked up in one coffer." Dioclesian differed in opinion from Constantius, and blamed him for levying so few taxes that his treasury was empty, observing that "a prince ought not to be poor." On which we are told that this great man sent for the richest of the inhabitants of York and informed them that he was in want of money, and should be glad if they would show their attachment by a voluntary gift. His treasury was soon filled; when Constantius remarked to the Roman envoy of Dioclesian that, "he had just collected together those things that had long been his;" adding, "I left them in the keeping of their possessors, who, as you see, have been faithful to their trust." The deputies returned to Rome filled with admiration, of not only the ruler but the people: and Constantius on his part, restored to his subjects the money they had so readily contributed for his service. [Crevier.]
In no particular did Constantius become more conspicuous than in his forbearance towards the Christians during the frightful persecution which signalized the reign of Dioclesian. This ancient "reign of terror" began in the family of the persecutor himself, and, sad to recount, was first instigated by a woman. The mother of Galerius had inflamed that prince against Christianity, who, in his turn, instigated Dioclesian to extirpate the faith of Christ, and spread the worship of their own gods. The Emperor first ordered his wife Pisca, and Valeria, the young wife of Galerius, to assist in sacrifices made to idols. Both ladies had received the baptismal rite, and had been encouraged by their own learning and genius to seek the society of those orators and writers who explained their new faith. But they knew that if they disobeyed the command of the Emperor, whatever his assumed regard for: them, they must expect to die. Love of life, weakness of faith, or easiness of temper, led them, therefore, in the end, to worship those idols their hearts refused to acknowledge; a weakness in such high examples which many readily followed, while others stood forth in defence of their faith, and, to the number of 17,000, fell victims for conscience, sake. The church in Nicodemia was levelled with the ground, and the very next day an edict appeared, depriving all Christians of their rank, and of the benefit of the laws, and exposing them to torture. [Milner.]
The persecution, which raged at that time, spread throughout the Roman world, two provinces alone excepted; these were Gaul and Britain, which escaped by the timely interposition of the merciful and humane Constantius. [Ibid.] That prince, though compelled with reluctance to demolish the Christian churches throughout his dominions, [Eusebius. Amongst others, the splendid minster of Lucius, at Westminster, was levelled to the ground at this epoch.] preserved the persons of the followers of Christ from harm; yet he could not prevent some of the atrocities which marked this period of bloodshed. Among the British martyrs were Aaron and Julius, A.D. 303, and St. Alban, who are said to have suffered cruel torments: a church was afterwards raised [In the city of Caerleon, where they were interred. A choir of nuns graced the church of Julius, and a famous order of canons that of Aaron.] to the memory of each. This persecution endured for two years and two months throughout the Roman Empire, when many persons of both sexes suffered death; [Kippis, Milner.] it was happily terminated in A.D. 305 by Constantius becoming Emperor. To try the hearts of his courtiers, Constantius proclaimed that all those who forsook the worship of the true God, should be banished the court, and that heavy penalties and fines should be imposed upon them; thereupon, all those who were base enough to serve him only for their own views went away, forsook the true God, and worshipped idols, by which means he found out who were the true servants of God, and whom he intended to make his own, thinking rightly that such as were faithful to their God, would prove so to him.
Did the inhabitants of Britain, as some have asserted, owe this interposition of Constantius in favor of Christianity to his own belief in its doctrines, or to his recollection that it was the religion of his divorced Queen, St. Helena? We have high authority for the fact, that Constantius was distinguished for Christian piety, and had been the founder of a metropolitan see at York. Some say that Constantius had received the faith and rite of baptism in the seventh year of his empire, Pope Sylvester officiating in the solemn ceremony; and we are assured that it was the constant desire of Helena to advance the Christian faith, which first stimulated this Emperor to favour the Christians. If it be true that Helena was herself a professor of its doctrines prior to her divorce, it must have deeply affected the heart of Constantius to behold her, on that painful separation, so entirely resign herself by its influence to her hopeless fate. The widowed wife and childless mother had submitted to her lot in so meek and uncomplaining a manner, as to prove her just claim to the title of Christian, and her example must have had its effect. Released from the matrimonial tie, she sought not again to enter into the married state, and most probably the reflections in this season of bitter trial in the life of Helena, laid the foundation for her own future greatness as well as that of her son.
In memory of this period of suffering, the African marigold has been placed in our floral calendars on St. Helena's day, August 18th, as it is a flower betokening grief, or distress of mind, and is thus appropriately emblematical of the feelings of the deserted Empress. [The African marigold blossoms all the year round, and was, therefore, termed by the Romans the flower of the calends—in other words, of all the months. The flowers are said always to turn towards the sun, and to follow his course from east to west. Thus Marguerite of Navarre, the maternal grandmother of Henry IV. chose it for her device, with the motto, "Je ne veux suivre que lui seul," intimating that all her thoughts and affections were turned towards Heaven, as the marigold towards the sun. See "Language of Flowers."] There is also a sentiment attached to the blossoms of the flower called helenium, which resemble small suns, of a beautiful yellow colour, and is said to have been produced by "the tears of Helena."
It is not positively certain that Helena [Baleus calls Helena the most Christian mother of Constantine, and Lluyd tells us that the young prince was brought up by her in the Christian faith, which she herself professed.] or Constantius were Christians at this period, though there seems some foundation for the supposition. That Christianity had obtained a footing in Britain long ere this, has been shown, and that it was professed even in the family of Constantius himself is equally certain.
During the residence of the Emperor at York, the Empress Theodora had borne him six children, all of whom were educated in Britain; the sons were Dalmatius, Julius Constantius, and Annibalianus: the daughters were Constantia, Anastasia, and Eutropia. To all Constantius proved a kind and tender parent, but the first of these royal princesses, Constantia, requires some especial notice, as her after-history becomes much connected with that of Helena and her own half-brother, Constantine.
At a very early age, Constantia studied the works of Arian, and became from the first his sincere disciple, though he had not then acquired any name, and at a subsequent time she was his powerful patron. Constantia was influenced in adopting the sect of Arianism, being already a Christian, by her friend and preceptor, Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia. She was singularly steady in her opinions, once formed, nor could she be won over to those of others; but her peculiar views caused afterwards much disadvantage and inconvenience to a church which required unity in its several members for its support. [Lives of the Empresses.] The princess was endowed with rare beauty, and possessed also "masculine courage, discretion, prudence and virtue; she had a judgment which penetrated the most solid affairs, much eloquence, and unshaken firmness and resolution, and a happy art of reconciling any differences which arose among those who surrounded her." Constantia's character and profession of faith might have caused Constantius to show leniency to the Christians, even were he not himself a believer in the sacred truths of religion.
It was not long after this cruel persecution that Constantius was called from his earthly dominions. He was seized with his last illness while occupied in an expedition against the Picts and Scots, and finding his life drawing towards its close, the Emperor's heart naturally yearned to behold the son who had been snatched from him just on his arrival at manhood. A messenger conveyed to Galerius the request of his dying colleague, that he would send home his son as soon as possible. [Miler.] Galerius delayed, as long as he could, the fulfilment of this duty. For a long time past he had regarded the "son of Helena" with the eyes of a jealous rival, and, seeking his destruction, had on various occasions placed him in positions of certain peril. Constantine's life had been risked against the Sarimatians in war, but he returned victorious to Galerius, carrying with him the enemy's king as his prisoner; and the Emperor regretted the conquest which spared the British prince. On another occasion, Constantine, ardently desirous to win renown and honour, undertook, by persuasion of Galerius, to fight with a wild beast in the theatre. The spectators, in wonder, beheld the animal slain by the youthful prince; but Galerius smiled, for he meant yet further to ensnare him into danger. [Lewis.] At last, however, the prince perceived his aim, and resolved to escape from court to Britain, and join his father. At this juncture, the news of the dangerous illness of Constantius reached him. Surrounded by the spies of Galerius, who watched his slightest movement, he made his escape by stealth. His perils were numerous, and in order to evade pursuit and retard the speed of those who sought to overtake him in his flight, Constantine was forced to resort to the expedient of maiming at every post the horses which were not necessary for his flight—a crue resource, yet, under his circumstances, excusable, for he was no doubt flying for his life, besides his desire to behold his dying parent. [Gibbon calls this "a foolish story."] In this way he succeeded in reaching Britain, where he arrived only a few days before his father breathed his last, and on proceeding to York, had the melancholy satisfaction of beholding once more his mother, from whom he had been so long and painfully divided. [Milner, Lingard.]
Constantius, during the brief interval which intervened between the arrival of Constantine and his own death, was requested to name his successor in the Empire, to which entreaty he gave the following memorable reply:;"That he would have none other than the most pious Constantine," thus setting aside the claims of the children of Theodora in favour of his son by Helena, and giving a final proof of his attachment to his first wife, and the legality of her union with him. His decision was received with approbation by the army, and the purple robe was thrown over the prince's shoulders, who on this occasion is said to have shed tears, and clapped spurs to his horse, to escape the importunities of all those who pressed around him to proffer the imperial dignity. [Leigh's Choice Observations.] How different had been the conduct of Caracalla, another Emperor's son, on a similar occasion!
A.D. 306, Constantius died, fourteen years after he had become Caesar, having enjoyed the dignity of Emperor the two last years of his life; [In 1283, when preparations were making for the erection of Caernarvon Castle, a body, supposed to be that of Constantius, was discovered there. King Edward gave orders that it should be honourably re-interred in the Church of St. Publicius, a descendant of the family of Helena.—Matthew, West, Pennant.] his memory was held in such esteem, that he was afterwards deified. His last mortal remains were deposited at York, in the Church of St. Helen, in Aldwark. This building stood near the walls of the city, but there are no remains in the present day. Some suppose that it was erected by Constantine on his conversion, over the remains of his father, especially as the name of St. Helen is affixed to the building. The main street, which now bears the name of Aldwark, to mark its antiquity, [Ald implies old, and wark a building.] was so designated by the Saxons; it adjoins St. Anthony's Hall, and the Roman Imperial Palace, described in the life of the Empress Julia, is supposed to have extended from Christ Church to this street. [Allen's York; Milner's Church History; Green's History of Worcester.] Camden relates that the remains of Constantius were discovered in a vaulted tomb within a little chapel at York, and adds "on the authority of several intelligent inhabitants of that city, that when this vault, which had by tradition been marked as the place where the ashes of Constantius reposed, was opened, a lamp was found burning within it, but which was soon extinguished by the communication of the air; for it was a Roman custom to preserve lights in their sepulchres for a long time, which art they accomplished by the oylines of gold resolved into a liquid substance."
Helena, who had passed the prime of life, for she was now in her fifty-fourth year, in a quiet obscurity, at a distance from those whose presence would have made life so dear, was now destined to emerge from her solitude, and assume an eminent position in the vast theatre of the world. It was she who had implanted the first principles of virtue in the bosom of the great Constantine, who had set in motion all those secret springs which were to bear him onwards to glory and greatness, and she was called upon in her own person to direct the career of that victorious child.
Without ambition for herself—for that failing had never formed part of Helena's character—she had none of those vain-glorious emotions which usually animated her contemporaries; all her feelings were absorbed in one, that of ennobling the name of the beloved son who had blessed her too brief union with Constantius, and who in spite of difficulties had inherited his imperial destiny. To guard that son from the perils of his high station, to assist him by her maternal advice, derived from the many years' experience of her own royal sway, and in her late humbler position, was the coveted duty of this exalted and estimable woman, and worthily did she acquit herself of the important office. If Helena did not witness either the arrival of her long-lost son, or the last moments of her departing Constantius, it is certain that no sooner was Constantine recognised successor to the Empire, than she repaired to the Imperial Court of York; and many places in that city and the north of England yet remain to attest by her name that there she was once present.
Theodora, her mother, and her children, were now become the guests of Constantine; they continued in the Imperial Palace, and under this painfully distressing change in their destiny, beheld nothing in the conduct of the new Emperor, or of his amiable mother, which could in any way remind them, by the smallest neglect or humiliation, of the bitter loss they had sustained. On the removal of the court from Britain, they accompanied it into Italy.
Not less difficult and trying was this sudden change of situation for Helena, than was that in which she had been divided for ever from her husband. She was now called upon daily to meet and associate, in the bonds of affection and kindliness of spirit, with the widowed Empress who had supplied her place on the throne of Constantius; and to guard over and protect her and her children, as the nearest ties of one so dear to herself. This hard duty, accompanied with all the recollections of the departed Constantius, Helena achieved. She had exchanged the dignity of Queen of the Britons for the more elevated rank of Empress-Mother of Rome. The dutiful Constantine, now that he had attained the summit of grandeur, desired only to make use of his new power to serve that mother whom he had always loved and reverenced. He publicly testified the immense debt of gratitude he felt was due to her long-tried affection by raising her at once to all the dignities of a Roman empress. He caused her to be proclaimed Augusta in his armies, introducing her to the soldiery with more distinction than Agrippina had ever enjoyed; [Butler.] Helena not having had the dignity of Augusta during the lifetime of Constantius, [Selden's Titles of Honour.] it was bestowed on her by her son, as though he desired to compensate her for the deprivation of an honour by her divorce, which she had been entitled to. He likewise caused medals to be struck, bearing her effigy, with her names, Flavia Julia Helena. One of these coins has, on one side, a female standing with a branch in her right hand, and the inscription "securitas Republicae," and on the other side, the words Flavia Julia Helena, round the head of the Empress.
Ancient inscriptions style Helena "Venerabilis et pietissima Augusta," [Green's Worcester.] and some of these give to her the imperial attributes. [Selden.]
Many stones yet extant bear the attributes of Empresses given to Helena, such as "Venerabilis Domina," "Clarentissima," "Charissima," and "Domina nostra." [Butler.] Besides these dignities, Constantine admitted Helena to council, as Alexander Severus had formerly done his mother Mammaea; and thus was the Empress-Mother enabled to confer on her country a train of benefits almost unexampled, while the hitherto enslaved island of Britain, under its new rulers, emerged from barbarism, and began to taste the many advantages of civil and religious freedom. It was to the influence of Helena, at this period, that Britain was indebted for some of its greatest and most durable benefits; for not only had Constantine admitted her into his councils, but he gave her power to carry out all she might desire to achieve for her country, by placing her at the same time at the head of his exchequer. In doing so he paid the highest compliment to her discretion, as monetary resources were at that moment in the greatest requisition, and Helena did not act in a manner to make the Emperor regret his confidence had been so reposed. [Some money of Constantine is said to have been discovered in the walls of the ancient city of Allcester.—Kennet.]
From the period of the death of Constantius, to that in which Maxentius was defeated near Rome by Constantine, there was an interval of six years. This period was doubtless occupied in adjusting the affairs of Gaul and Britain, over which Constantius had especially ruled. Leland speaks of the City of London as enlarged and fortified by Constantine at the request of Helena. [Lewis, Hist. of Britain.] The manner in which the walls were built was discovered at a later date, in laying the foundation for a new wall. [Stowe.] They are thus described by William Fitz Stephen, who died in 1171: "The wall of this city is high and great, continued with seven gates, which are made double, and on the north distinguished with turrets by spaces; likewise on the south, London hath been enclosed with walls and towers, but the large river of Thames, well stored with fish, and in which the tide ebbs and flows, by continuance of time hath washed, worn away, and cast down those walls."
The Saxon Chronicle confirms the fact of the existence of these walls, by saying that "in 1052, Earl Godwin, with his navy, passed along the southern side of the river, and so assailed the walls."
While these great works progressed, Constantine made every arrangement for the public security and welfare of Britain. He divided the country into five provinces, named Britannia Prima, Valentia, Britannia Secunda, Flavia Caesariensis, and Maxima Caesariensis.
[Holinshed. The countries they comprehended were as follows:—The 1st province, or Britannia Prima, the east part of England, from the Trent to the Tweed.
2nd. Valentia, (or Valentina,) the left side, from Liverpool to Cockermouth.
3rd, Britannia Secunda, that part of the isle which lay south, between the Trent and the Thames.
4th., Flavia Caesariensis, all that country between Dover and the Severn, including Cornwall and Wales.
5th, Maxima Caesariensis, or Scotland.]
Constantine appointed that each of these five provinces should be ruled by a vicegerent, five rectors, two consulars, and three presidents; but from that time till the reign of Valentinian, no account is given of the manner in which the government was conducted after the son of Helena quitted his native country.
In early youth Constantine had allied himself to Minervina, supposed to be a British lady, by whom he had a son named Crispus. He afterwards had espoused Fausta, [Three sons of Constantine by the Empress Fausta were afterwards placed over the provinces. Constantine, the eldest, over the Gauls, Spain, and Britain; Constans over Illyricum, Italy, and Africa; and Constantius over the East. Constans was founder of Caer Segont, which was also called Hengaer, the old town which stood by the site of the modern Caernaxrvon.—Kennett.] daughter of Maximian, the enemy of Christianity, a lady who was the half-sister of Theodora, the Empress of Constantius. Maximian had contracted this alliance for Fausta from motives of state policy. Twice driven from his throne by the unworthy Maxentius, his adopted son, Maximian took refuge with Constantine, who at that time was residing in the palace of Treves. [The city of Treves was honoured with the title of Augusta; it was a Roman colony, and the residence of several emperors, who had the care of superintending their possessions in Gaul.] Though the Emperor could scarcely forget a revolt which Maximian had formerly kindled against him at Marseilles, he received him with the utmost generosity and clemency. Maximian repaid this by raising a new plot against his life. He endeavoured to gain over his daughter Fausta to send away the Emperor's guards during the night, and to leave his apartment open to him. Presents, prayers, promises, and threats were employed to seduce the unhappy Empress. If she betrayed her father by a word, she knew it would be to die; if silent, her husband's life was the price at stake. At last she promised obedience to Maximian, but conjugal affection led her to discover his secret to Constantine. The Emperor could not believe his aged father-in-law capable of such treachery, and sacrificed the life of an eunuch to prove the fact. The unfortunate victim, of a class held in no esteem except as serviceable to their master, was placed on the couch of Constantine, who dismissing his guards, concealed himself in the chamber. In the dead of night, Maximian entered, and finding the passage cleared for his approach advanced to the bed, when he buried his poniard repeatedly in the slave's bosom, exclaiming," My enemy is dead. I am master of the Empire!" The sight of Constantine changed his joy to despair; he beheld with horror the threatening countenance of his supposed victim: the day of grace was past; Constantine pardoned him not again, and he fell a sacrifice to his insatiable ambition! [Hist. Universelle.]
This was the first [At a later period Licinius, the husband of Constantia, his sister, and her son, were put to death by him; but the fate of Licinius was deserved, when his crimes towards the wife and daughter of Dioclesian are considered.—See Gibbon.] who fell by the death-doom of one merciful by nature, but who gained sternness and severity by the circumstances of his own fortunes. In Maximian, the colleague of his late imperial father, Constantine destroyed the father-in-law of Theodora, the husband of Eutropia, the father of Fausta, and grandfather of his own sons. It seemed a horrible alternative, yet certainly no safety on a throne could have been enjoyed, had Maximian continued to exist.
Perhaps this conspiracy against the life of Constantine alarmed the maternal feelings of Helena, and actuated her conduct in future towards the sons of Theodora. These three young princes, Dalmatius, Constantius, and Annibalianus, had been promoted by Constantine to the order of nobility, out of respect to their being of his family; in consequence of which they all wore a purple robe with golden guards. [Zosimus.]
Helena, who always preserved her authority over her son, and is said to have rarely exerted it in a bad cause, showed much wisdom and prudence by the care she took to prevent the rise of these princes, brothers of Constantine, who were of noble birth by their descent from Maximian. There were no instances of the sons of Emperors remaining in a private station, and Helena feared that though in reality they had no right to the empire, which was elective, they might perhaps, urged by ambition or by evil counsellors, forget their allegiance to Constantine, and disturb the tranquillity of the State. The Emperor Constantius had desired that his dominions, undivided, should devolve on her own son, and the army had sanctioned his choice. Helena had no share in this arrangement, which, however, being made when the three brothers of Constantine were still minors, she resolved to maintain, and by her prudent precautions effected her purpose. She kept them always at a distance from the court and from employments, sometimes at Toulouse, at other times at Treves, or in some other distant city, and last of all at Corinth, where she fixed their abode. [Crevier's Hist. of the Roman Emperors.] Julian the Apostate, afterwards Emperor of Rome, already alluded to as having stigmatized Helena's marriage as illegal, who was himself the descendant of Theodora, designates the conduct of Helena in this instance as "the cunning artifice of a stepmother;" but Tillemont esteems it good policy, founded on the opinion that they had no right; whatever to the throne; and indeed the sequel of Constantine's family history, which will be given hereafter, proves how prudent were the precautions of Helena.
As we do not hear more of Eutropia and Theodora, it would seem not unlikely that after the death of Maximian, and the separation of these princes from the court, they quitted the palace of Constantine for the more calm retreat which their children were permitted to enjoy at a distance from the crimes and ambition which pervaded the atmosphere of the Roman State. [Helena, in quitting Britain, had, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, been accompanied by the three brothers of King Coel, her uncles, Llewelyn, Trehearne, and Marius. Llewelyn, at a subsequent period, espoused a Roman lady, by whom he became father of Maxen Wledig, or the Illustrious, of whom it will be necessary to speak in another part of this work, as the husband of Helena ap Eudda.]
At the time Constantine was proclaimed in Britain, Maxentius, son of Maximian, invaded Italy, [Though Constantine had been made Emperor of the West, the praetorian guards had, in a tumultuary manner, declared Maxentius Augustus at Rome. (Platina.)] where he was now exercising great tyranny over the Romans in the city of the Emperors; and many of those who were exiled sought protection in Britain at the court of Constantine, whom they stirred up by their representations to march to Rome and oppose the tyrant. Among other acts of oppression of which Maxentius recently had been guilty, was that of putting to death St. Katherine, a near relative of Constantine, at Alexandria, whose sacred body, adds our authority, "was miraculously carried by angels from Alexandria to Mount Sinai."
Constantine, having assembled a powerful army, marched against Maxentius. On arriving in the neighbourhood of Rome, the Emperor encamped over against the bridge Milvius, now called Ponte Mole, two miles distant from the city. The enemy's forces were superior in point of numbers, but Constantine earnestly implored the protection of the one supreme God. After his prayer, a little before noon, as he was traversing the country with a part of his army, he beheld in the sky a cross of light, with this inscription, "By this shalt thou conquer." The following night he is said to have seen our Saviour, who commanded him to make a representation of the cross which he had seen, and use it in battle. The Emperor obeyed the Divine command, and thus as early as the fourth century originated the famous banner called Labarum [Butler's Lives. The Roman custom of carrying a banner called Labarum, in Tertullian's time, in their armies, gave rise to the practice of banners being carried in public processions. The Labarum was worshipped both by commanders land private men. On it was painted an eagle, the ensign and the tutelary bird of the empire. From hence it is, that ensigns are called sacred in processions, and that they are saluted, and the effigies of saints of both sexes are painted thereon, because they are the patrons of parishes.—Roma Antigua, p. 76.] or Standard of the Cross, which wholly displaced the ancient standard of Rome. [Lesly, Bishop of Ross, reports a similar story respecting Hungus, King of the Picts. He states, that the night before the battle between Athelstan, King of Northumberland, and Hungus, King of the Picts, a bright cross, in form of that whereon St. Andrew, the tutelar saint of Scotland, suffered martyrdom, appeared to Hungus; who, having gained the victory, ever after bore the figure of that cross on his banners.]
Maxentius was defeated, and by the breaking of a bridge of boats, which by his own command had been thrown over the Tiber, was drowned in his flight. [Butler, John Rous.]
To commemorate these events, in which the heart of the Empress-Mother must have deeply shared, the senate afterwards caused a triumphal arch to be built to the honour of their pious and valiant Emperor. This arch is yet to be seen in Rome. A statue was also erected to Constantine in one of the public places of the city, where he appeared holding a large cross in his hand, instead of a lance, and by his own order the pedestal bore the following inscription:—" By this salutary sign, the true mark of courage, I have delivered you from the yoke of tyranny, and restored the senate and people of Rome to their ancient glory." [Butler.]
Constantine the Great was the first who displayed a cross in a shield on the imperial arms, on his helmet, and on the shields of his soldiers. [Clavis Calendaria.] Whether Helena was converted to Christianity before her son, [St. Ambrose says that Constantine was happy in being born of such a mother as St. Helena, who found for him a divine help which filled him with courage, and placed him above the greatest perils. A truly great woman, who had it in her power to bestow on the master of the Empire something beyond all that he had already. Crevier, on the contrary, says that Helena had long been engaged En the superstitions of idolatry, and that it was by the conversion of her son that God thought proper to bring her to Christianity, which she embraced with a sincere heart and enlightened mind.] as some authors assert, or not till after the appearance of the miraculous cross which Constantine beheld, she received the right of baptism from the hands of Sylvester, Bishop of Rome, who on this occasion was endowed with imperial dignities which were confirmed to his descendants.
A story is on record concerning the conversion of Constantine, which states, that when the Emperor was, while in the prime of age, afflicted with the leprosy, and his recovery despaired of, Helena offered up prayers for her son's restoration to health. [Lewis's Hist. of Great Britain.] Gower, who introduces this circumstance in his "Confessio Amantis," says that every remedy resorted to having failed the physicians of the Emperor ordered him to be bathed in the blood of children whose ages were under seven years. The necessary number of infant victims was collected, but Constantine's mercy prevailed; he grieved to think of the lives about to be sacrificed—
By cause of him alone.
He sawe also the greate mone,
Of that the mothers were ungladde,
And of the wo the children made;
Whereof that his harte tendreth
And such pitie within engendreth,
That him was lever for to chese
His own bodie for to lese,
Than see so great a mourdre wrought
Upon the bloude, which gilteth nought.—Book ii.
The children and their mothers were remanded home, the latter praising and blessing Constantine, and praying for his restoration to health. The Emperor, on the other hand, having no hope on earth, commended himself to God alone. The same night Peter and Paul are said to have appeared to him in his sleep, and ordered him to send to Mount Celion for Sylvester and his clergy, who would cure him of his disease; "at the same time they commended his charity towards the children."
Constantine, as on a former occasion, was obedient to the order received in his vision. Sylvester obeyed the summons with joy, and seized the opportunity to preach the faith to the master of the world. Constantine requested to be baptised, and for this purpose the same vessel was employed which had been prepared for the blood of the victims. On being immersed in the holy water, "the scales of his body fell off, till nothing remained of his great malady, his body as well as his soul being cleansed and purified."
Such is the legend: we are further informed by the poet, that the Emperor sent for his mother, "Queen Eleyne;" and that, by their joint persuasions and influence, the Roman people were admitted to the rite of baptism, [The painting of the Baptism of Constantine, by Christoforo Roncalli, adorns the Lateran Palace.] "of which their most holy Empress had previously set them the example."
"This emperour, which hele hath found,
Within Rome anone let founde
Two churches, which he did make
For Peter and for Paules sake;
Of whom he had a vision,
And yafe thereto possession
Of lordeshippe, and of worldes good."
[Gower's Confessio Amantis, book 2.]
Platina [And Socrates.] tells us that Constantine left Constantinople for the hot baths, for the recovery of his health; [Butler's Lives.] but discredits the story of the Emperor's being afflicted with leprosy, and says, it is not mentioned by any Christian or profane author.
Whether the story was founded on fact, or not, Pope Adrian I., in after times, asserted, in support of his supremacy, that Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, having been converted to the truth, baptised by Pope St. Sylvester, and cured of his leprosy, had, out of gratitude, when he founded his new capital, Constantinople, freely resigned Rome, and made to the Popes the absolute and eternal donation of the Sovereignty of Italy and of the Western Empire.
In the same year that Constantine vanquished Maxentius, he is said to have also bestowed on the Bishop of Rome the Imperial Lateran Palace, A.D. 312, in which, in the following year, 313, Pope Melchiades held a synod in the apartment of the Empress Fausta, wife of Constantine. It is interesting and curious to discover the Popes in possession of this edifice as early as the fourth century; and in later times to hear the famous Pope Gregory comparing Bertha, Queen of Ethelbert, the Kentish monarch, to the pious St. Helena, because, like her, she yielded up her royal abode for the service of the papal missionaries.
The baptismal font of Constantine, which was preserved in the Palace of the Lateran, having become nearly ruinous, was restored and beautified by Leo X.
"The hall of Constantine, in the Vatican, one of the last works of the immortal Raphael, was commenced under the same Pontiff (Leo X), and terminated after his death, and that of the artist, by Giulio Romano and Gian Francesio Penni. This apartment is adorned by four grand compositions, each of the series occupying one side of the chamber. The first represents the Vision of Constantine, with the miraculous appearance of the Holy Cross; the second and largest is the Victory of Constantine over Maxentius; the third, the Baptism of the Emperor; and the fourth, the Donation made by him to the Church. On the basement of this apartment are represented the figures of several of the Roman Pontiffs, who had been distinguished by superior piety; each of whom appears to be seated in a niche, and to be attended by two angels, who support his mantle, or assist in holding the book which he is employed in reading. Among them are the sainted Pontiffs, Pietro Damaso, Leo, Gregory, and Sylvester. On the base of a column, at the foot of the picture which represents the baptism of Constantine, is inscribed, "CLEMENS VII, PONT. MAX. A. LEONE X. COEPTUM CONSUMAVIT." [Roscoe.]
Constantine first beheld Rome on the occasion of his triumph over Maxentius: at that time he made some stay in the capital; but he never fixed his residence there; and from that time to the twentieth year of his reign, we always find him, by the dates of his laws, and by other historical monuments, both in war and in peace, either at Milan, at Arles, or in Illyricum, while his visits to Rome [Crevier.] appear to have been rare. Notwithstanding which, in that city remains are yet found which testify his affection for his excellent mother.
The ruins, also, of the private baths, built with great magnificence in Rome, for Helena's use, by her son, still bear the name of Thermae S. Helenae. [Butler's Lives.] These baths, in the Villa Ursinia, are still among the objects of interest shown to strangers, being almost entire: they bear at the entrance the following inscription:
"D. N. Helena Ven. Aug. Mat.
"which (says Montfaucon) we have therefore set down, because otherwise delivered by others. On the left hand going out, is the Neustriae way, and on the right the Labicane, leading to the tomb of the Empress Helen."
Several new cities were afterwards founded by Constantine, in honour of his mother, to which he gave the name of Helenopolis. One of these was situated in Palestine. Another was Drepanum, in Nicomedia, which he beautified and fortified, exempting it from all taxes: this town was favoured more particularly from the regard which the Empress herself entertained for it, from the circumstance of St. Lucian the Martyr having been interred there; she herself assisted in commemorating the spot. "This was named Helenopolis, as well as other cities, in her honour, and not because she was born there, as some have erroneously supposed." [Procopius.] The city where Constans was slain was called the City of Helena.
The grand object of Constantine and of Helena, from the time of the victory over Maxentius, seems to have been the propagation of the Christian faith. The Empress instigated her son to piety and alms-deeds; [Butler.] and after three hundred years had rolled away, under the domination of Emperors hostile to the creed of Jesus, its followers beheld one of British birth arise as a protector to the rights of their Church. They now first experienced peace and quietness, and to become a Christian was legal. Indemnity was made to those professors who had been injured, and the ministers of God were treated with honour. [Milner, Baleus.]
The heads of the several provinces belonging to Rome were directed to promote the Gospel; and though, like Constantius, the Emperor would not oblige them to profess Christianity, he forbade them, by their prefects, to sacrifice to idols. Even beyond the bounds of his own Empire, Constantine still sought to promote the good cause; for, in a letter to Sapor, King of Persia, he zealously pleads for the Christians of his dominions. He destroys idol temples, prohibits impious pagan rites, puts an end to the savage fights of gladiators, stands up with respectful silence to hear the sermon of Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, who furnishes him with the volumes of the Scriptures, for the use of the churches; he orders the observation of the festivals of martyrs, has prayers and reading of the Scriptures at his court, dedicates churches with great solemnity, makes Christian orations himself, one of which, of a considerable length, is preserved by the historian, his favourite bishop: directs the sacred observation of the Lord's Day, to which he adds that of Friday also, the day of Christ's Crucifixion, and teaches the soldiers of his army to pray, by a short form made for their use. [Milner's Church History. "Galerius, tormented with sufferings from an incurable disease, published an edict taking off the persecution from the Christians, and allowed them to rebuild their places of worship, desiring them to pray for his health. He expired a few days afterwards."]
Among other improvements, Constantine abolished the barbarous punishment of crucifixion; and from the time that the sign of the cross appeared to him in the battle against Maxentius, the cross, as a figure, began to be reverenced and esteemed. Theodosius afterwards made a law that no image of the cross should be graven in stone, marble, or in earth, lest men should tread on it. [Polydore Vergil.]
Constantine also forbade the private use of divination, though he still allowed the public use of it in baths and temples; he afterwards abolished the worst branches of sorcery and magic. Finding the idolaters still addicted to their rites, he took another step, that of publicly exposing the mysteries which had hitherto been kept secret, melted down golden statues, and caused brazen ones to be drawn by ropes through the streets of Constantinople; and some of the temples, which had been scenes of horrible wickedness, he destroyed. In Egypt the famous cubit, with which the priests were wont to measure the height of the Nile, was kept in the temple of Serapis. This, by Constantine's order, was removed to the Church of Alexandria. The pagans beheld the removal with indignation, and ventured to predict that the Nile would no longer overflow its banks. Divine Providence, however, smiled on the schemes of Constantine, and the Nile the next year overflowed the country in an uncommon degree. In this gradual manner was Paganism overturned. [For many benefits conferred on the Church, Constantine was, after death, canonized by the Greeks, who keep his festival on May 21st.]
As for Helena, Rufinus calls her faith and holy zeal incomparable, and says she kindled the same fire in the hearts of the Romans. One of our early writers, speaking of the piety of Helena, [Baleus. Gregory the Great recommends her as an example to Bertha, Queer of Ethelbert.] says, "She persevered to the end of her days, with the evangelic Anne, in holy widowhood, entirely devoted to the Christian religion." There are authors who record that it was through her that persecution ceased, and peace was restored to the Church.
Such an understanding of heavenly philosophy is she said to have arrived at, after a knowledge of the Gospel, that she early produced treatises—
On the Providence of God, 1 book.
On the Immortality of the Soul, 1 book.
The Rule for Right Living, 1 book. (To the ever-august lord, her son.) Epistles to Constantine, 1 book.
Of her Revelations, 1 book.
Pious Exhortations to her son, 1 book.
To Pope Sylvester, many epistles.
To the Abbot Antonius, many epistles.*
Certain Greek Poems, 1 book.
*[Anthony, the holy hermit, who is described as a man "wrapped wholly in contemplation," was by birth an Egyptian. (John Rous.) His manner of living was severe, his food being bread alone, and water his beverage; his single meal in the day was taken at sunset. This man did much to reform mankind in Constantine's reign, and Helena oftentimes, both by letter and messengers, recommended herself and her sons to his prayers. (Platina.)]
All which are stated by Ponticus to be still extant.
Hitherto, from the period of his coming into power, nothing is recorded of Constantine that takes from the excellence of his character. But whatever virtues might exist in those times, the savage nature, yet unsubdued by a continuance of the usages of the blessed faith of Christ, would occasionally break forth, and some unexpected act of cruelty or revenge appears in history, as if to contradict the good attributed to its heroes.
This was the case in regard to Constantine, who, generally represented as just and merciful, yet committed acts which can scarcely be reconciled with such a reputation, and in these the influence of his mother appears to have been of no avail.
It would seem that, at the time when the son of Fausta was about ten years of age, Crispus, the son of Constantine by his first wife, Minervina, became the object, some writers say, of the love, some of the jealousy, of his mother-in-law. Be the cause what it might, Fausta, it appears, was bent on the destruction of the young prince, and made accusations against him to his father, which entirely embittered his mind.
It was at a grand festival in honour of the twentieth year of Constantine's reign, when the court was at Nicomedia, that in the midst of enjoyment, and unsuspecting of evil, Crispus and several of his friends were arrested, carried away to judgment, and after a brief examination by persons already instructed to find them guilty, they were condemned, some to death, others to banishment, which was to end in the same punishment. Crispus was sent to Pola, in Istria, where he was soon after put to death. [Gibbon.]
The vengeance of Fausta was now satisfied, and the stern justice of Constantine executed; but Helena's affliction knew no bounds at so severe and unlooked-for an act, and she felt convinced, not only that the prince was innocent of the intention to conspire against his father, of which he was publicly accused, but that he had secret enemies, who ought to be brought to light, and receive the reward of their crime.
In her endeavours to discover these, revelations of a character for which she was not prepared, were made, by which Constantine became aware of the infidelity of the Empress Fausta herself, to whose representations he had yielded, and had sacrificed his son. Rage and jealousy now took possession of his mind, and without waiting for more proofs of the frailty of his wife, he determined that her life should pay the forfeit of her treachery.
It is recorded that Fausta met her death in the bath, in which she was suffocated by the steam, "it having been heated to an extraordinary degree." [Gibbon.]
Helena heard of this second act of retribution with feelings of deep regret and sorrow, and is said to have, in her character of his mother, reproved the Emperor with great severity for his cruelty in both instances: and this is recorded to have been the sole occasion on which a difference ever existed between her and her son. The accusations and the vengeance were both common to the times, and frightful as the facts are, the loss of human life did not affect the world as it does in more civilized days; otherwise it is difficult to find excuses for Constantine, who is accused by some authors of more than one act of cruelty irreconcileable with his boasted clemency. Considering his profession of the new faith, and his opposition to the old, he had doubtless sufficient enemies ready to blacken his character, whenever there was a possibility of misrepresenting the truth. This may also account for the accusations which have been made against Helena herself, of having been the accuser of Fausta, and the instigator of her son's vengeance against his wife.
The death of Licinius is another stain cast on the fame of Constantine, who, having condemned him as an accomplice in the designs of Crispus, affected to listen to the prayers of his agonised sister, and appeared to consent to his banishment to Thessalonica but he was, soon after his arrival there, murdered by the imperial order. Helena, after the catastrophe of their mother's death, took upon herself the education of the children of Fausta.
About A.D. 325 happened one of the most interesting events in Church history—the Council of Nice. It is not certain that Helena was present on this remarkable occasion; but, as her son presided at the assembly, it is very likely that she did so likewise, for she generally not only accompanied him wherever he went, but sat in council, and aided him with her wisdom and experience.
Helena is thus described, when, at the advanced age of eighty, she undertook an expedition surprising at her years: "Her life was constantly happy, at least after the elevation of her son to the throne of the Caesars. She saw that only son reunite under his power the whole extent of the Roman dominion, and three grandsons seemed to promise her that the Empire would be perpetuated in her posterity. Add to this, perfect health, and an unimpaired vigour of mind, preserved even in her old age. So many prosperities were not to her, as they too often prove, a means of seduction, but, on the contrary, an inexhaustible fund of grateful acknowledgment and piety towards God." [Crevier.]
The great enterprise for which, more than any other action in her life, Helena has been celebrated, was a journey into the East, for the express purpose of discovering the true cross on which our Saviour had suffered. This grand undertaking was made at the distance of more than three hundred years from the Christian era, and attests the exalted piety of the Empress. Some say she desired to adorn the churches and oratories in those sacred spots, noticed in the history of our blessed Lord, and to relieve the poor [Rufinus, John Baleus.] of those parts; others, that visions, admonitions in sleep, or divine warnings, had led to the design which drew Helena to the Holy Land; and St. Paulinus declares no worldly motive could have directed her steps; it was the pious one alone of discovering the true cross. A letter from Constantine was dispatched to Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, ordering him to make search for the sacred relic on Mount Golgotha of Calvary. Tradition had pointed out the spot where it was to be found, and it is said that Helena had been favoured with an especial revelation to aid her search.
Accordingly, the aged Empress set forth, attended by an imperial retinue, and at the head of a large army, taken for that purpose out of Britain; [Lewis's Hist. of Great Britain.] whence some have derived her surname of "Lueddog," Elen Lueddog, signifying "Elen with the great army."
The desire of Helena to admit her own countrymen to a share in this great and glorious enterprise is highly interesting; for it shows that in her honoured position of Roman Empress she still remembered that she was Queen of the Britons. The Emperor himself accompanied her as far as Byzantium.
On her arrival at Jerusalem, Helena is said to have convened a large assembly of Jews, of whom she requested information concerning the spot of which she was in search. They refused to point it out; upon which Helena threatened to put them to death. [Caxton says by fire.] On hearing this, they reluctantly confessed that Judas—an ominous name—one of their number, could give the necessary information. This man, however, who was really acquainted with the place, was as resolute as his brethren; and it was not till after he had passed several days without food in a dry cistern or pit, where he had been placed by order of Helena, that hunger conquered his resolution, and he made known the secret, by leading the impatient Empress to the spot. [Eusebius, Caxton.] When arrived there, the search was by no means easy. The Emperor Adrian, who had delighted in the profanation of those sacred places, had, about 200 years before, buried under great heaps of earth the place where the holy sepulchre existed, not far distant front the spot of the crucifixion, and had built upon a platform over the place, which was paved with stone, a temple to Venus, while above the sepulchre he had raised a statue of Jupiter.
It was necessary to remove the whole of this edifice, and afterwards to clear away the mass of stones on which it rested, as a preliminary step to the necessary discovery; this done, they had to dig very deep to discover the former surface. No difficulties could, however, deter Helena from accomplishing her pious object. After avast quantity of earth had been removed, and all the rubbish of the buildings they had demolished, the sacred grot was discovered wherein the Lord's body had rested, [Caxton.] and whence it had arisen in a glorified state.
After they had dug a little deeper still, they discovered three crosses; and here a new and unexpected difficulty arose—for they could not determine which of these crosses was the one that had borne the Saviour of Man. The superscription was indeed found, but it was not attached to any one of them. Judas could not tell the Queen which was the true cross, and Macarius suggested that a miraculous proof should be demanded of God concerning its identity. The Empress, the bishop, and others, therefore, went to the house of a lady of quality, who was very ill, in the city. On arriving there, the Empress having herself made a prayer aloud, [This prayer is recorded by Rufinus, Hist. lib. x., cap. 8.] the bishop applied the crosses, and the sick person was restored instantly at the touch of the true cross. Many historians relate this as a fact; and add that, by touching it, a dead person also was restored to life. According to Caxton, Judas had laid the three crosses in the middle of the city, and while there awaiting some demonstration from God, at about noon a young man's body was carried forth to burial. Judas detained the bier, and laid on it first one of the three crosses, then a second, and after that a third, when the dead was restored to life. Sozomen relates this incident, as he tells us, from report only; and Mr. Butler says it deserves little credit. Some, indeed, consider the whole story of the Inventio Crucis, or Finding of the Cross by Helena, as a mere fiction; and Salmasius, in his "Treatise de Cruce," p. 296, endeavours to prove, it such, on account of the supposed inscription; "for where was the necessity of a miracle for distinguishing the cross on which our Saviour suffered, from those of the malefactors, if the above-mentioned inscription was found near it; as it would plainly appear, from the hole and nails, which of the crosses it had been affixed to, though even the two other malefactors, as is probable, had their inscriptions." [Keysler's Travels.] Eusebius, however, mentions indirectly the discovery of the cross, in the letter of Constantine addressed to Macarius about building the church, and describes the two magnificent churches which Helena built, the one on Calvary, the other on Mount Olivet; [Butler.] it is therefore, no refutation of these historians, though perhaps some embellishment may have been added to the main facts. [Polydore Vergil, who relates the fact of Helena's finding the three crosses, says, "it was easy to perceive Christ's cross by the title which then did remain, albeit sore wasted and corrupted with antiquity."
Judas is said to have possessed a family memorial of 326 years' standing, naming the place which Helena desired to discover, which document he presented to the Empress, and thus the cross was found. Subsequently Judas, who was a Hebrew, received the baptismal rite, and the name of Queriacus was bestowed on him by Helena; he lived to become a bishop, and suffered martyrdom. The Romans appointed a festival in his honour on the 3rd of May, which was subsequently called Holy Cross Day.
Platina tells us the cross was discovered by Helena on the 3rd of May, during the Pontificate of Eusebius, but the calendar appended to Cooper's account of the most important Public Records of Great Britain (vol. ii. p. 489), fixes the date on the 3rd of May, A.D. 326, in the twenty-first year of Constantine's reign, the thirteenth of the Pontificate of Sylvester, and the first after the Council of Nice.—Butler, vol. v., p. 564.]
The Empress, who had presided in person over the whole work, was overwhelmed with joy at finding herself in possession of such a treasure; she cut the sacred cross into two pieces, the largest of which was enclosed in a rich silver shrine, and placed under the care of Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem; it was afterwards annually exposed to the adoration of the people, sometimes oftener, in proportion to the number of pilgrims who resorted thither to worship it. The second portion of the cross was sent as a present of inestimable value to Constantine, who was at Constantinople, and there, at certain periods, it was uncovered and exposed to the adoration of the public with much solemnity. Fragments, as is well known, of this cross have been dispersed all over Christendom.
About three hundred and fifty years after the discovery of the cross, an Anglo-Saxon nun wrote the description of a journey of pilgrimage made by two of her countrymen [St. Willebald and St. Wunebald. See Miss Lawrence's interesting work, History of Woman in England.] in the eighth century, who travelled to the Holy Land through Asia Minor. After tracing their progress, the writer, who was of the monastery of Heidenham, says: "And then they came to Jerusalem, by that place where the Holy Cross of our Lord was found. There is now a church in this place, called the Place of Cavalry; but St. Helen, when she discovered it, enclosed it within the boundaries of Jerusalem; and there stand three wooden crosses, in front of the east court of the church, near the wall. These are not within the church, but withoutside, under a covering; and there is that garden, near where the sepulchre of our Lord was. This sepulchre was cut in the rock, and that rock stands upon the ground; it is four-square within, and narrow towards the top; and the cross of that sepulchre stands now upon the top; and there beside is built an admirable house; and on the east side, in that rock, is the door of the sepulchre, by which men enter into it to pray; and there is the bed where the body of the Lord lay; and there stand about the bed fifteen golden basins of oil, burning day and night; that bed is on the northern side, within the sepulchre, and is on the right hand of the man as he goes in to pray there. And there, before the door of the sepulchre lieth a great stone, like to that which the angel rolled away."
Such is one of the earliest accounts of the sacred edifice which was erected over the spot of our Lord's Sepulchre, [Milner's Hist. of the Church of Christ.] where part of the cross found by St. Helena was deposited. The splendour is said to have rivalled that of Heliogabalus's Temple of the Sun, "its walls being lined with precious marbles, its roof covered with beaten gold, while in the shower of light which fell upon its dome, Helena affected to image and perpetuate the angelic glory to which the fane was dedicated." [Lady Morgan.]
A modern writer [Light's Travels in Egypt, Nubia, the Holy Land, and Cyprus.] describes the building in these terms: "The form of the body of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is circular, over which is a heavy cupola. In the body of the church are entrances to the three chapels of the Greeks, Armenians, and Latins, and to the cells of the monks, who are kept there for the service of the church. The chapels are fitted up in the style of the sect to which they belong; the Greeks and Armenians with pictures, the Latins with images. In the centre rises an oblong building of wood, of twenty feet in length by ten in breadth, in which is a cupola, open at top. One half of this contains the Sepulchre of our Saviour, the other is fitted up for the chapel of the Copts. A small space enclosed by low railings surrounds the entrance to the Sepulchre. I confess I had been prepared to see something like a tomb, and was rather disappointed, on entering, to find myself in a mean chapel, where the altar, of plain white marble, occupied a space of six feet in length, two in breadth, and in depth about two feet and a half, leaving only room in front fit to kneel. It covers, according to the tradition of the place, the tomb of our Saviour, of whom a miserable picture is hung on the tapestry over the altar; this is lighted by forty-five silver lamps, suspended in six rows from the cupola. I followed the example of my guide in kissing the altar, kneeling and bowing my head over it.
"From the Sepulchre, I was led to a flat stone of six feet in length, and three in breadth, forming part of the pavement of the body of the church where our Saviour's body was anointed after it was taken from the cross; near which were the tombs of Godfrey and Baldwin, two of the sovereigns of Jerusalem during the Crusades. They are now enclosed, and concealed from view within the wall, their existence and appearance not being interesting to the Armenians, who new modelled the church.
"The attempt to bring everything connected with the crucifixion of our Saviour under the same roof, surprised me. In one part of the church is an elevated piece of rock, enclosed in a sort of chapel, in which the crucifixion took place; three small square pieces of marble, in the centre of which is a pole, mark the spot where the crosses of our Saviour and the malefactors were fixed; and in another, close to this, is a chapel, dedicated to the place where the ceremony of nailing to the cross was performed; underneath is an excavation, where St. Helena found the cross; and a little further off is the tomb of Nicodemus the Jew, who is mentioned in St. John, chapter iii.; but by what authority he is buried here I do not know. To complete the show, a fragment of a granite column, about two feet high, said to be taken from the palace of Pontius Pilate, and described as the pillar to which our Saviour was attached when he was scourged, is placed in another chapel. But I will not tire the reader by dwelling longer on the relics of this church, which are made the objects of contention between the different sects, and are by turns possessed, as each has money to purchase the right to them from the Turkish chiefs, who of course are anxious that such contests should occur."
Mr. Light, seeing the anxiety to crowd all the relics of the Saviour under one roof, the Sepulchre in particular being so near the place of crucifixion, doubts whether it was the actual burying-place of our Lord, and thinks that the early Christians, from their zeal, neglected to examine among the tombs further from the city for the real Sepulchre. He says:—In the Valley of Jehosophat there are caverns which have evidently been tombs, many of them with a stone portal, and bear marks of great antiquity. The text in Scripture says, the stone was rolled away, which certainly applies more to a vertical than a horizontal position, the supposed situation of the present tomb, and is contrary to the custom prevalent of burying the dead in tombs excavated in the sides of rocks, of which memorials are to be found in all parts of the East. As I made these observations before I read Dr. Clarke's account of Jerusalem, I was much gratified in finding his opinion coincide with mine."
The same author goes on to observe:—"Within the limits of the Aga's seraglio or palace are said to be the place of confinement and judgment-hall of our Saviour, the spot where he was scourged, and that in which the cross was kept before it was used for the crucifixion, and where it was left by the Empress Helena after she found it on "Mount Calvary."
Helena, likewise, was desirous to evince her piety by monuments, raised in the several other places rendered sacred by our Lord's sufferings. She destroyed at Bethlehem the Temple of Adonis, by which Adrian had, about a hundred years before, profaned the place where Christ was born, and raised instead, a church to the incarnate Son of God. She built another upon the Mount of Olives, on the spot where our Saviour ended his abode on earth by his glorious ascension. In both these works she was assisted by the liberality of her son, but she had the first share in the design and execution of them. [Both these edifices are described by the early Saxon writer of the Life of St. Willebald, in the eighth century, as having been seen by that bishop, who, when he visited the Mount of Olives, "came to the church on that mount from which our Lord ascended into heaven. And in the midst of the church stands a plate of brass beautifully wrought, and it is square. This is in the midst of the church, on the place where our Lord ascended into heaven; and in the middle court is a quadrangle, and there are little glass lamps, and round about these lamps is glass to enclose them. And this is why they are enclosed, that they may keep alight both in rain and sunshine. This church is, moreover, very broad, and without a roof, and there stand two pillars just withinside the church, against the northern and the southern walls. These are in remembrance of the two men who said,'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?' And that man who can pass between the wall and the columns, they say he is free from his sins.
"Then he went to the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds, and then to Bethlehem, where our Lord was born. This place was formerly a cave, and now it is a house, cut four-square in the rock, aid the earth is dug away round about, and a church is now built over it. And on the place where the Lord was born now stands an altar, and another smaller altar is there, and when they celebrate mass in the cave, they take that smaller altar and carry it within. This church, which stands above, is built in the form of a cross, and it is a glorious building."]
The lamented author of the "Crescent and the Cross" [Eliot Warburton.] thus describes his visit to the Church of St. Helena, at Bethlehem:—'Entering by a very low door and long passage, almost upon hands and knees, I stood up under the noble dome of the Church of St. Helena. The roof, constructed of cedar-wood from Lebanon, is supported by forty huge marble pillars, showing dimly the faded images of painted saints. The whole building is silent, dirty, and neglected-looking, but of noble proportions. From its court are parted off the different chapels belonging to the rival sects. The Armenian is the handsomest and wealthiest of these, as its friars are by far the most respectable.
"The Chapel of the Nativity is a subterranean grotto, into which you descend in darkness, that gives way to the softened light of many silver lamps suspended from the roof. Notwithstanding the improbability of this being the actual place of the Nativity, one cannot descend with indifference into the enclosure, which has led so many millions of pilgrims, in rags or armour, during 1800 years, from their distant homes. It is, however, impossible to recognise anything like a reality in the mass of marble, brass, and silken tawdry ornaments; and one leaves this most celebrated spot in the world with feelings of disappointment."
Mr. Turner is still more minute; these are his words: "I descended a staircase and entered a grotto, said to be the site of the stable in which our Saviour was born; it lies east south-east, and west north-west, and is thirty-seven feet six inches long, and fourteen broad. At the easterly end, on the supposed site of the birth, is built an altar, six feet three inches long, and fifty-eight feet six inches deep, formerly belonging (as indeed did the whole church) to the Catholics, but now usurped by the Greeks, with whom the Armenians have lately bought a share. This altar, lying north north-east, and south south-west, is above, adorned with mosaic, laid by Helena, but now ruined, and with Greek pictures of saints, &c., and lighted with fourteen silver lamps, belonging to its present possessors. The grotto, i.e., the whole, is lighted by twenty-six silver and silver-gilt lamps, the property of the Catholics. To the west-southwest of the site of the birth, fourteen feet distant (in which are included three steps, cut from the naked rock), is another altar (lying north by east and south by west, and contained in an interior grotto), the site, it is said, of the manger in which our Saviour was laid: this altar is fifty inches long, and thirty-five and a half deep. To the east south-east of the manger, five feet six inches distant, is another altar, supposed to be on the spot where stood the Magi, when they offered their gifts to Jesus. Both these are hung with appropriate pictures; and the one on the site of the manger is lighted by five silver lamps. This interior grotto measured seven feet ten inches, by eight feet nine inches, and is embellished by four small columns standing near the supposed site of the manger, one of verd antique, one of pink, and two of white marble; these were also placed by St. Helena. At the westerly end of the church is a door leading to a large natural cave, in which is shown, first, from the door to the right, an altar, covering, it is said, the spot where Joseph retired to pray, after the delivery of the Virgin; second, to the right, an altar, where are thought to have been buried the Innocents murdered by command of Herod; under it is a large hollow; third, turning into a passage on the left, an altar upon the sepulchre of St. Eusebius; fourth, in the same passage, an altar upon the sepulchre of Santa Paola and hex daughter; opposite to which, fifth, an altar on the sepulchre of St. Jerome; and sixth, turning to the right, a chamber, said to have been the tomb where St. Jerome taught. The only thing belonging to the Greeks and Armenians here below, is the altar, on the site of the birth; under this is a small hole, which they have embellished with a silver plate, for the pilgrims to kiss." [Turner's Tour in the Levant.]
It appears from St. Ambrose, that Helena was, out of contempt, called Stabularia by the Jews and Pagans, not as Baronius thinks, because Constantius lodged at the house of her father in Britain, but because she herself founded this Church at Bethlehem where the stable stood in which Christ was born, and which the enemies of the Christian name turned into ridicule. St. Ambrose writes thus of her: "They say she was first a stabularia, or one who entertained strangers, and so became known to Constantius, who afterwards arrived at the Empire. A good stabularia, who sought so diligently the crib of the Lord; who chose to be reputed as dung, that she might gain Christ!" This commentary might also have referred to another grand work of Helena, which was a kitchen for the support of the indigent and hungry poor at Jerusalem.
In this manner Helena directed the State revenues which her son had placed in her hands to the purposes of religion and benevolence. Paulinus, Epist. XI. ad Severum, reproaches the Empress-Mother with abusing the exchequer; but Fuller, [Worthies of England, vol. i. p. 500, edit. 1840.] who refers to this charge against Helena, thinks that the word "abuti" should be rendered, "a full and free use of those treasures" her son had employed her to distribute.
Saint Paulinus [Bishop of Nola.] writes of the discovery of the cross through the zeal of the Empress Helena, and lavishes praises on the faith of Constantine. The epistle which he addressed on this subject to Sulpicius Severus is edifying, for it gives a just idea of the mother's piety, and the religion of the young prince, her son:—
"I am persuaded that it is not out of season that I inform you how the cross has been found, and recognized, to edify your faith by the history of an event which is too important for one to be ignorant of. It is easy to see, that he who knows not the detail, would with difficulty understand how this cross, which has been discovered by revelation, was the true one, on which the Lord willingly expired for us; but it cannot be doubted that if it had fallen into the hands of the Jews, who are always watching to weaken the faith of Jesus Christ, they would have torn it to pieces, and reduced it to ashes. For those who had sealed the Sepulchre would not have failed to destroy the remembrance of it, and they would not have suffered the preservation of the cross to afford an excuse for worshipping Him whose resurrection they would not acknowledge, though attested by the opening of the tomb, and the uselessness of the seals they had placed upon it to hinder the rising from the dead which they apprehended. It is, therefore, in vain that we demand why the cross remained buried in the earth, since, if it had not been so, above all during the time of the persecutions, which have succeeded to the hatred of the Jews, and almost surpassed their cruelty, it is evident that all the remains would have been entirely destroyed; for one may easily imagine with what fury those persons would have destroyed the cross, who have expended their violence on the place where it had been deposited. The Emperor Adrian thought that by despoiling this sacred spot, he would succeed in undermining and extirpating the faith of the Christians: with this view he decorated a statue of Jupiter in the place where Christ died, and Bethlehem was in like manner profaned by the impure Temple of Adonis. He hoped, so to speak, to pluck up the Church by the root, and to shake it from the foundation, if idols became adored on the spot where Jesus Christ was born to suffer, suffered to rise again, rose again to reign, and was judged by the world, that in his turn he might judge the world. Alas! it has pleased the all-powerful God to expose himself to these outrages, and even to permit profanation of sacrilegious men in the spot where he was crucified for the salvation of the human race. Over the cross, which had shaken all nature with earthquakes, by the eclipse of the sun, and by the dead rising from their graves, the idol of the Devil was raised; his altar smoked with the funeral pile of the beasts which were sacrificed to him; the name of God was conveyed to dead images, while He who is the living God, and the resurrection of the dead, was loaded with opprobrium, and blasphemed as a man who was dead, and dead by the shameful punishment of the cross. In Bethlehem, where two animals had recognised their master, and the manger of their Lord, men, disowning their Saviour and their God, have paid a superstitious worship to the infamous love of mortals, and to dead bodies. That place in which wise men from the distant climate of Chaldea had adored the Eternal King, whose cradle had been revealed to them by a new star, and had offered their presents, had the Romans rendered sacred to impure and barbarous passions. In that spot where, during the night, lighted by the star, the shepherds, accompanied by a multitude of angels, and transported by a celestial joy, repaired to render homage to the new-born Saviour, impure females, amidst effeminate men, have wept for the death of Adonis, and the grief of Venus. Alas! what piety may be able to expiate such prodigious impiety! In the place where the sacred tears of the Saviour's infancy had been heard, shameful ceremonies retain the cries of those who utter the lamentable complaints of Venus.
"This shame to the age lasted till the time of Constantine, which touches our own. This prince merited to be the model and Chief of Christian princes, by his own faith and that of his mother Helena, who, by Divine inspiration, when this circumstance was made known to her, sighed for the happiness of beholding Jerusalem; and being proclaimed August with her son, besought him to give her permission to visit the places made holy by the traces of our Lord, and by the mysteries which He had wrought for us. She desired by the destruction of temples and sacrilegious idols, to purge these holy places from the contagion of impiety, and to restore them to their original holiness; for it was necessary that the Church should resume its rights, and recover its first lustre in that place where it had received its birth. The Emperor did not hesitate to consent to all that she wished, and his august mother devoted the treasures with which she had been entrusted by him, in lavishing on the pious works which she projected every richness that could be withdrawn thence. It was with all the grandeur and magnificence which depended on herself, and which religion required, that she adorned noble churches in every place where her Divine Redeemer had accomplished the healing mysteries of mercy.
"Helena desired, in these magnificent works, to pay to Christ the homage of an Empress; but she did not, at the same time, omit to perform those works of mercy and goodness, which are more pleasing in the eyes of God than any temples wrought with hands. It was her delight to relieve the poor, the orphans, and widows, by her charity; and as she travelled from place to place through the Holy Land, and more intimately surveyed the spots on which she desired to erect monuments to mark the glory of the Lord, and her own pious zeal in His service, she left in the hearts of all, abundant testimonies to her own vital religion. Helena especially honoured those virgins who were consecrated to God; and having one day assembled all who resided at Jerusalem, she gave them an entertainment, at which she waited on them herself."
Suidas, who notices this humility of mind and Christian modesty in the Empress of the Roman world, towards women of the monastic order, says: "She often assembled, and seated, and ministered to them with her own hands, setting before them the victuals, and handing the cups, and pouring water over their hands, so performing the part and office of a maid-servant."
"She loved simplicity; and in the common prayers of the faithful, she mixed with the other women, without taking any particular or distinguished place. She visited the principal churches of the East, and left, wherever she went, proofs of her Christian and religious liberality; nor did she pass by the chapels of the meanest towns, where her delicate sense of humility led her to appear amongst the women at prayer in a most humble garment. She was able to indulge her pious charity in these respects, because the Emperor, her son, confiding in her prudence, gave her leave to draw upon the imperial treasury for whatever sums she pleased." [Crevier.] Whilst, therefore, "Helena travelled all over the East with royal pomp and magnificence, she heaped all kinds of favours both on cities and private persons, particularly on soldiers, the poor, the naked, and those who were condemned to the mines, distributing money, garments, &c., and freeing many from oppression, chains, and banishment." [Butler's Lives.] By these and a thousand other actions, Helena proved herself the "common mother of the indigent and distressed." [St. Gregory the Great.] "She herself built more churches than any woman before her time or since, [Green's Worcester.] to say nothing of those numerous edifices of another kind, suggested by her benevolence."
Of this latter class was the kitchen founded at Jerusalem by the Empress, thus described by Mr. Turner: "We visited the kitchen of St. Helena, which is a large edifice, well built of yellowish marble, and having its two doors adorned after the Gothic fashion. It is still used by the Turks for the purpose for which it was originally instituted, being a kitchen endowed by the Sultan for the benefit of the poor, and of Turkish travellers. The Turks have divided it into several apartments, of which some are ovens, some stables; and above they have built a mosque and a bath."
The Church of the Ascension, which stands on the loftiest of the three summits of the Mount of Olives, in the centre of the village of Mount Olivet, on the very spot whence our Saviour is thought to have ascended to heaven, was built, it is said, by St. Helena, and, says Warburton, "from the roof may be obtained the most interesting, if not the most striking, view in the world." The holy spot whereon our Lord is supposed to have stood, was enclosed by the Empress with an octagonal building, roofed by a round dome. "On each side of this building, except where is the door, are two small columns (fourteen in all) of coarse marble, with highly ornamented capitals. The circle of the inside was sixteen feet two inches round, and the dome about thirty-five feet high from the ground. Within is a stone, thirty-one inches by twenty-one, said to have been the last earthly substance that Jesus trod on. This stone contained an impression, which, says tradition, is the print of Jesus' foot. A higher authority, [Luke, chap. xxiv.] however, says, our Saviour ascended from Bethany. Near the stone is a recess (to make which the symmetry of the building is spoiled, and a parcel of stones are heaped up to cover it on the outside) for the Turks and Arabs to pray in. All the pilgrims kiss the stone very devoutly. Of the court in which the building stands, each side is about one hundred feet, but the shape is irregular. Here the Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and Copts, have each an altar (the Armenians have two) of stones, rudely piled, [The village itself stands on the summit of a mountain, and commands a complete view of Jerusalem, from which it is about twenty minutes' distance.—Turnet.] of the Mosque of Omar. In the kitchen, which has a small dome, supported by four square clumsy columns, are some of the original caldrons of Helena, of which, one of the largest that I measured, was fifty inches round, and thirty inches deep. A mituctee, or superintendent, is sometimes sent from Constantinople, to honour a distinguished visitor here: she has a residence in the kitchen, and takes care that the guest be well provided: in this case the poor are neglected, as the fund is eaten up by the numerous attendants that always accompany a distinguished Turk." [Turner's Tour.]
It must be interesting to the generous friends of the poor and needy, who in our own days have fed the hungry and clothed the naked, in similar institutions, to revert to the primary institution founded on this principle in a remote age in that Holy City which, in religious interest, exceeds every other in the earth. Nor was this the only other embellishment added by Helena to the churches she had already founded; for, about one hundred paces south-east of the Holy Sepulchre stands the convent of St. Peter, also the work of the Empress. It is now in the possession of the Turks, who have converted it into a tanner's yard and stables; several broken pieces of columns are attached to the walls.
Scarcely a spot celebrated in Scripture passed unregarded by the observant and pious Helena: churches arose in all directions, convents adorned the desolate places dedicated to the service of Christ: Nazareth, Bethlehem, Arimathea, testify the zeal of the Empress in her holy undertaking. The finest convent in the Holy Land, that at Nazareth, was erected by her orders, and is thus described: "The church of this convent is very large and handsome: there is a grotto under it, to which visitors descend by a handsome marble staircase: it was there, they say, that the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin. The natural ceiling of the grotto is left; but a very handsome altar of sculptured marble is built in it; and there are still seen two columns of granite, placed, it is said, by Helena, to mark the spot; of one of which the lower part is broken off, so that it is upheld by, and hangs from, the stone roof, which is here looked on as miraculous. Out of the grotto, a short passage leads into a small cave, said to have been the kitchen of the Virgin." [Turner's Tour.]
Of the convent of St. Catharine, at Bethlehem, Dr. Wittman writes:" As we approached the convent, in which we were received with great hospitality, we passed beneath the ruins of an ancient gateway, and afterwards entered a lofty building, erected by St. Helena, anciently styled the Temple, but now the Convent of St. Catharine. It is ornamented with at least fifty lofty and beautiful columns of marble, of the Corinthian order, and has on its walls the remains of several fine paintings in fresco of Scriptural subjects, representing the apostles, patriarchs, &c. The beauty and symmetry of the Temple have been in some measure destroyed, by a portion of it, which they have converted into a chapel, having been divided off by the Greeks, who received permission from the Turks to do so, on their consenting to pay an annual contribution."
"Ramla," says the same traveller, "the ancient Arimathea, was the seat of government in the theocratic days of Israel; here Samuel judged the people, and here the elders of the Hebrews assembled to demand a king to rule over them." Here St. Helena, having gathered the bones of the martyrs out of the marshes, and placed them in coffins, built over them a church called the Church of the Forty Martyrs. Light, who visited the subterraneous Church of the Holy Martyrs, says, "the ruin may be dated from the time of the Crusades. Close to this there is a large reservoir, which is ascribed to St. Helena, the roof being supported by arches and pillars of the Gothic or Saracenic architecture, the length being not less than one hundred feet, and the breadth forty."
Among other foundations ascribed to Helena, are the Convent of St. Tecla, in the island of Cyprus, and the Convent of Santa Croce, built on the summit of the ancient Mount Olympus: the latter is said to have been small, but built with great solidity. [Mr. Turner says: Under it are subterraneous chambers, of which three have been opened, and found to contain rich priestly habits; of these the Turks took possession; there remains a fourth unopened, of which the priests conceal their knowledge till they shall find an opportunity of opening it unknown to their tyrants. The door of the convent is guarded by a portcullis; the church is small and mean. I found it full of about one hundred and fifty Greek peasants, who were bowing and praying to a cloth, on which was embroidered a cross."]
When the idea of searching for the cross first inspired the Empress, she is said to have exclaimed, "I behold Calvary, I behold the field of battle—but where are the spoils and the trophies? I seek the standard of salvation without its being displayed to my view! I am elevated on a throne, and the cross of my Saviour lies buried under a dunghill! I see myself amidst a superb court, and the triumph of the Son of God is buried in ruins! How can I believe that I have been redeemed, if I do not behold the victory of my Redeemer?" [Ambrose, Theodoret.] Her glorious enterprise was indeed achieved, and when the precious relic of the Divine nature upon earth was presented to her enraptured view, she worshipped, not indeed the senseless wood, but Him who had suffered upon it. Yet this very circumstance led to a result on which the pious Empress had not counted—no other than the worship of relics—a superstitious observance which has continued ever since to prevail wherever the Romish faith has prevailed. The first originator, then, of the material worship which so essentially characterises the Roman Catholic, in contradistinction to the real Christian or Protestant faith, was the unconscious mother of Constantine. Before her time, no cross was ever venerated by the followers of our Lord, nor were material objects combined with the principles of the Christian faith. The apostles, the primitive fathers of the Church, the martyrs of Dioclesian, had alone the true God before their eyes; but now a new object of interest arose, and a new tradition attached importance, solemnity, and honour, to places and things; to the former, as the abodes of our Lord on earth, to the latter as relics tendered sacred by His touch.
The portion of the cross, forwarded to Rome, was divided into portions, each of which was destined to form the foundation for some new edifice, dedicated to Christianity. Over these sacred relics was built, amongst others, the magnificent edifice of St. Peter at Rome. The possession of a portion of the Holy Cross was esteemed in itself sufficient to render any spot sacred and hallowed. Spires and domes arose in countless numbers to testify the fact. Other relics besides were found to be peculiarly sacred; the garments of the apostles, the bones of departed saints, began to acquire value in the Christian mind. The belief which could not attain by faith to a spiritual knowledge of the facts of the redemption, was forward in recognising and receiving objects known and attested by their connexion with the Divinity and His followers. [An order of the Cross (or Croisade), consisting of ladies only, was instituted in 1668 by the Empress Eleanora de Gonzagua, a namesake of the mother of Constantine, and wife of the Emperor Leopold, on the occasion of the miraculous recovery of a little golden cross, wherein were enclosed two pieces of the true cross, out of the ashes of part of the palace: though the fire had burnt the case wherein it was enclosed, and melted the crystal, the wood had remained untouched by the devouring element!—Ency. Brit.]
To the great influence of Helena was also to be attributed the removal by Constantine of the court from Rome to Byzantium, where the Emperor founded for himself a new capital, which, from his own name, derived that of Constantinopolis, or "the city of Constantine." The more immediate vicinity of this city to the localities which the Empress-Mother desired to adorn with edifices for Christian worship, was the main object in her view, and the Emperor seconded the design, under the impression that they might by fixing their residence there, more easily direct the persons employed to carry out their mutual enterprise. In the end, however, the removal of the court to so distant a spot produced the ruin of the Roman Empire, by diverting the strength of the heart of the government to so remote a portion. It is singular enough that the renowned city of Constantinople, first chiefly re-edified and ennobled by Constantine, son of Helena, should at last have been lost, and bereft of all Christian religion, by an Emperor called Constantine, whose mother also bore the name of Helena, A.D. 1460. [Stowe. "In 1472, on the 27th of May, when Mahomet II., Prince of the Turks, took Constantinople, he beheaded the Christian Emperor, Constantine, and, putting his head on the top of a lance, caused it to be borne with derision through the Turkish camp. At the taking of the city there was also a horrible tempest of thunder and lightning, which buried about eight hundred houses."]
The mother of Constantine the Great visited Constantinople the same year that the cross was discovered, A.D. 326. In that new capital of the world the Empress "founded temples exceeding in splendour, if not in beauty, the antique monuments of pagan worship, and strangely contrasting with the chill catacombs and subterraneous crypts of the early congregations of Christians. The first church raised by Constantine, under the influence of Helena, was dedicated to the Divine Wisdom, clothed in a female form, under the invocation of St. Sophia. Even the foundation of the imperial city itself was ascribed to the inspiration of the Virgin Mary, who was chosen its tutelary guardian." [Lady Morgan]
Among other decorations of the Forum itself, there were, according to Suidas, "two columns of Helena and Constantine, with a cross between them, having the inscription 'Unus Sanctus,' 'there is One Holy.'"
The fame of Christianity spread far and wide, amidst all the external honors paid to the faith; and as Helena, with her splendid train of Roman and British followers, progressed through the East from place to place, great multitudes of converts, amongst whom were illustrious Indians, Iberians and Armenians, and many others of a meaner sort, received the baptismal rite, and swelled the imperial train. [Suidas.]
During the period that Constantinople was re-edified, Constantine resided at Nicomedia, surnamed "The Beautiful," the capital city of Bithynia, which, for greatness and magnificence, has been compared to Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. [Lempriere.] Thither Helena repaired, to join her son, as soon as she had accomplished her designs in the East, carrying with her the precious testimonials of her pious search. On arriving, she related to the Emperor how she had discovered the holy cross, and by what prodigy it had been distinguished from those found with it, and also the superscription which had been separated from the cross. The Emperor was deeply affected, and still more so when his mother presented to him some of the sacred nails used by the Jews in the crucifixion of our Lord. [Platina's Lives of the Popes.] For scarcely had that precious cross, which Helena prized more than all the riches of the Roman Empire, at length been placed in her possession, than she remembered that she had not the nails, and had accordingly sent to desire Judas to search for them likewise. He obeyed the order, and after having dug in the earth for some time, is said to have found them shining as gold, and to have borne them to the Empress, who, on beholding them, worshipped them with great reverence. One of these nails she put into a bridle for the horse her son rode upon, [One of the nails Constantine made into a horse's bit, which he used in bat tle.—Platina.] and another she reserved for the helmet he was accustomed to wear in battle; [St. Ambrose. Caxton's Golden Legend.] for both her affection and piety united in the hope that these sacred relics would preserve her beloved Constantine uninjured from his foes. [Burton's Rome.]
The iron rim, which formerly adorned the helmet of the Roman Emperor, and was made from one of the nails used in the crucifixion, is still in existence. It is about three-eighths of an inch broad, and a tenth of an inch thick, and constitutes the most important part of the famous iron crown of Lombardy, with which the Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte in modern times caused himself to be invested at his coronation; being attached to the inside of it all round. Upwards of 1500 years have passed away since this crown was presented to Constantine by his mother, and, says an intelligent writer, "there is not a speck of rust upon it; which I was desired to notice as a permanent miracle, by the chanoine who called my attention to that fact. The crown itself consists of a broad circle of gold, set with large rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, and is kept in the Cathedral of Monza, over an altar, closely shut up within folding doors of gilt brass. This exhibition is attended with some ceremony, and the cross is not usually taken down from its elevated position to gratify curiosity by a nearer view; but we were more fortunate. The crown is kept in an octagonal aperture in the centre of the cross; it is composed of six equal pieces of beaten gold, joined together by close hinges; and the jewels of embossed gold ornaments are set in a ground of, blue and gold enamel; which, to me, was interesting, as it exhibited an exact resemblance to the workmanship of the enamelled part of a gold ornament now in the Ashmolean Museum, which once belonged to King Alfred, and is the most curious piece of antiquity in that museum."
Constantine the Great, at the beginning of his reign, wore the simple laurel and radiant crowns used by his predecessors in the Empire, but was the first Roman Emperor who made use of the diadem of pearls and rich stones; and the fashion, not only of the crown, but of the coronation of Constantine, was afterwards followed by the rest of the monarchs of Europe. [Selden's Titles of Honour.]
St. Gregory of Tours assures us that the third of these sacred nails was thrown into the Adriatic by the Empress herself, [Or her son,—Platina, from Ambrose.] during a storm (perhaps on her homeward passage, as we are told she conveyed the holy treasure herself to her son), in consequence of which the sailors entered on that sea, as sanctified, with fastings, prayers and singing hymns, even to his own day. [Butler, Platina.]
Two more of the precious nails are noticed by a modern writer, of which one was to be found in the Treasury of St. Mark at Venice, and the other in the church of the Benedictine Monastery at Catania: the latter, by its miraculous powers, prevented the destruction of that edifice in the overwhelming eruption of Etna in the year 1669, when the lava flowed all round the monastery, and left it standing amidst liquid fire unhurt!
Amongst the bridal offerings presented by Hugh the Great, son of the King of France, to Athelstan, the English monarch, on the occasion of his soliciting the hand of the Princess Edilda, daughter of Edward the Elder, for his wife, was the sword of Constantine the Great, whose name, as that of its former possessor, was inscribed upon it in letters of gold; and upon its pommel, rising up above the rich plates of gold, was to be seen one of the four nails of the crucifixion. That one of the nails did fall into the hands of the French King, is a fact recorded by Burton; [Antiquities of Rome.] and we are told that when Hugh presented this famous sword to King Athelstan, it was accompanied by other sacred relics—a portion of the true cross enclosed in crystal, and a fragment of the crown of thorns; which last precious memorials were presented by the English monarch to the Abbey of Malmesbury.
Helena, having first built a church upon the ground where the cross was found, returned and brought the nails with which our Saviour's body was fastened, as a present to her son. [Platina's Lives of the Popes.]
The cross which Helena conveyed to Rome on her return, was placed in a silver case set with gold and precious stones, [Ibid.] and was deposited in the Sessorian Church, [Ibid.] or rather in the edifice sometimes so called, because it stood upon the site, or to speak more properly, near a great building named II Sessorio, the Temple of Venus and Cupid. This pagan edifice was destroyed by the pious Constantine on the occasion of his founding the Church of Santa Croce, and the remains of the structure are yet visible as you enter the vineyard near the church. Santa Croce is one of the seven principal churches of Rome, and situated within the walls of the city, upon the top of Mount Esquiline. [Burton, Roman Itinerary.] At the time it was built by Constantine, that part of Rome was much more inhabited than in the present day, as is evident from the adjacent ruins. "It now stands quite alone, with no buildings near it, amidst groves, gardens and vineyards; and the number of mouldering ornaments and tottering arches that surround it, give it a solemn and affecting appearance. It is remarkable for the antiquity of its shape." [Burton.]
This church, built by Constantine at the express request of Helena, derived its name of "Santa Croce" from the circumstance of the Empress herself depositing in it some pieces of the holy cross and a part of the earth taken from Mount Calvary; some of the latter was placed under the church, and the rest over the roof. [Keysler, Eustace, Burton.] Here also were deposited two of the thorns, one of the thirty pieces of silver, a part of the cross of the Good Thief, one of the nails used at the crucifixion, and the superscription on the cross in Hebrew, Greek and Latin; the latter, which was in, red letters and much damaged, was as follows:—
" HIESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEOR."
This last relic was discovered in A.D. 1492, during the Pontificate of Innocent VIII, in a little leaden chest, where it had been concealed above one thousand years.
Without more minutely describing the interior of this beautiful church, suffice it to say, that by a door or gate you descend to the Chapel of St. Helena, into which no female is permitted to enter except on the 20th of March, which is the anniversary festival of the consecration of the church, and then no men are admitted. The ceremony of the consecration of Santa Croce was performed by Pope Sylvester. [It was in the year 1601, when Rubens was staying at Rome, that he executed a commission he had received from the Archduke Albert to paint three pictures for the Church of Santa Croce di Gierusalemme, connected with which he had formerly borne the cardinal's hat. One of these pictures represented the Finding of the Cross, and the others, the Crucifixion, and the Crowning with Thorns. These pictures, which were very remarkable as specimens of the style of painting of this great master in the art at that period of his career, were brought to England in 1811, and sold the following year by auction. (Noel's Translation of the Life of Rubens.) The Crucifixion afterwards, on its way by sea to Count Woronzow, at St. Petersburgh, was unhappily lost. Rubens painted twelve pictures, representing events from the history of Constantine, formerly in the Orleans Gallery, but now scattered through different private collections in England, several of which display great beauties. "These sketches—for they are not finished pictures—were brought to England with the Flemish portion of the Orleans Gallery, in 1792. The history of this grand acquisition, the dangers encountered by the purchaser, a Mr. Slade, and the artifices to which he had recourse in their removal; the indignation and threats of the French painters, crowding round the packages, and in despair to see this rich collection carried out of their country, would form a striking chapter in the biography of pictures. The twelve sketches of the history of Constantine were valued, as a series, at 1000; but no one having come forward to purchase them, they were unfortunately, we mus; allow, dispersed among various purchasers, and brought double the sum."—Mrs Jamison's Notes on the Life of Rubens.]
Constantine erected many other churches: [Milner.] one of these was dedicated to the two martyrs, "St. Marcellinus the Presbyter and St. Peter the Exorcist, and stood in the Via Labicana." [Platina.] He built a church to St. Paul, and also another to St. Peter, which last stood not far from the heathen temple of Apollo, and was erected at the instigation of St. Sylvester. This famous person had been banished by the tyrants, but when Constantine favoured Christianity, he left Mount Soracte, whither he had retired, and came to Rome, where he obtained great influence with Constantine.
He was made Bishop, A.D. 314, as successor to St. Melchiades.
"The Constantinian Church," called the Lateran, was also built and richly endowed by Constantine.
These churches, like those in the East, were distinguished for their holy relics. One, that of St. Giacomo Scossa Cavalli, is said to have derived its name from the following circumstance. A cart-load of relics, among which was the stone designed for the sacrifice of Isaac, another on which Christ stood when among the doctors in the Temple, some holy earth which had been brought from Jerusalem, and even, it is said, some drops of the blood of our Saviour, were despatched from the church of Santa Croce di Gierusalemme to that of St. Peter; when stopping at this spot, neither whipping nor any other means could induce the horses to go a step further. Accordingly the occurrence was considered a divine intimation, and the whole of the relics were deposited on the spot. [Keysler's Travels.]
In the Church of St. Peter in Vinculo, at Rome, are said to be the identical chains which bound St. Peter, both at Rome and at Jerusalem: at the latter city, St. Helena found a relic of the chain by which she judged St. Peter had been fastened, and therefore determined to offer it to the Pope, who possessed another fragment. It was received by him with much pomp and solemnity, and it is said that the identity was proved by the two chains uniting of their own accord when brought in sight of each other!
Pope Julius II. (A.D. 1503-1513) pulled down half of the Old Church of St. Peter's at Rome, and laid the foundation-stone of the new edifice himself. It was built on the plan of Michael Angelo. [Roscoe's Leo the Tenth.] Of the dome of this celebrated building, built under Pope Sixtus V., the following particulars are interesting, inasmuch as they commemorate our heroine, the Empress. It is said of the great artist, Michael Angelo, that having heard some one praise the Rotunda as an unparalleled work, he observed "that he would not only build a dome equally large, but build it in the air." He made good his assertion: the honour of the undertaking and design of the dome at St. Peter's is due to him. This amazing structure rests on four pillars, of ninety palmi in diameter, each of which is adorned with a white marble statue, twenty-two palmi high, without the pedestal. The first is St. Veronica, by Francesca Mochi; the second is St. Helena, by Andrea Bolgi; the third, St. Andrew, by Du Quesne; and the fourth, St. Longinus, [The sacred lance, which pierced our Saviour's side, was formerly preserved with the statue of Longinus, but it is now kept in the general repository for relics over the figure of St. Veronica. It is said that St. Helena discovered the iron of the lance. It was subsequently divided into two parts: the point was kept in the imperial palace at Constantinople, the other division in the Church of St. John of the Rock. It seems to be uncertain whether the division was made by Constantine II., who wished to give the point to Charlemagne; or whether Baldwin, while he was King of Constantinople, pawned it to the Venetians, from whom it was recovered by St. Louis, King of France. However, in 1492, Bajazet II., Sultan of Constantinople, sent the part which did not contain the point, as a present to Innocent VIII.; a scribe to induce him not to protect his brother Zezim, who disputed the throne. The Pope sent a solemn embassy to receive it, and for a long time it was preserved in the Vatican. In 1500 it was placed in a magnificent chapel, where was the statue of Longinus; but when this chapel was destroyed by Julius II. it was removed to the case of St. Veronica, where it has remained ever since. Benedict XIV., in one of his works, assures us, that while he was canon of this Basilica, he had the exact measure of the point sent him from the Chapel Royal at Paris; and that, after comparing the two together, they corresponded so exactly that no manner of doubt could remain as to the identity of the two relics. These relics were exhibited on Good Friday and other days. No one is allowed to visit the place where they are kept, unless he has the rank of a canon. And those sovereigns or illustrious persons who have sought this privilege have first the honorary dignity of canon conferred upon them.— Burton's Antiquities of Rome.] by Bernini, who also designed these ornaments. [Keysler.]
Over each of these four statues is a fine tribune, or gallery, from whence, several times in the year, the relics, which are kept in a particular chapel, are exposed to public view.
In the vaults under the pedestals of each of the four statues an altar is erected, on which the history of the saint whose statue stands over it is represented in mosaic-work, by Fabio Christofore, from the designs of the famous Andrea Sacchi. Under these four altars are steps leading down to the other subterraneous vaults, which are full of excellent mosaic, that being the only work which could be proof against the dampness of the place. This mosaic-work was formerly the pavement of the whole Church of St. Peter. [Bernini, by the niches he made in the pillars for the above-mentioned four statues, and especially by the stairs along the foundations of the pillars, for going down into the vaults, or Sacra Grotte, was censured for having weakened the foundations to a great degree, and soon after a cleft discovered itself in the cupola, occasioned by a violent clap of thunder. Bernini was near losing his head for this unlucky accident, but saved it by his success in removing and erecting the obelisk in the Piazza Navona. Michael Angelo, the designer of this dome, was apprehensive of such an accident; and earnestly desired that these four pillars, with their foundations, should not be in the least altered or meddled with. In the year 1700 this cleft in the cupola was widened by an earthquake. (Keysler's Travels.) The four supports of the dome of St. Peter's Church are about 240 feet in circumference, and 178 in height. Each of the four has two niches in front, one above the other. In the lower ones are statues of saints, and some of the most precious relics are preserved in them. St. Veronica has her veil or sudarium, St. Helena has part of the true cross.—Burton.]
It has been objected that two out of the four principal niches in this church, those which are formed in the vast piles that support the dome, and which of course face the altar, should be appropriated by saints whose very names exist only in a legendary tale, viz., Saints Veronica and Longinus, while a third is devoted to St. Helena, whose statue, though she was a princess of great virtue and eminent piety, might stand with more propriety in the porch near the statue of her son; for in the early ages of Christianity the honour of being deposited within the church was reserved to martyrs, and Constantine had merely requested to be allowed to lie in the porch of the Basilica of the Apostles, which he had himself erected in Constantinople. On this account it is thought that the statues of apostles, the principal martyrs, doctors, and bishops, should alone have been admitted into St. Peter's Church. Eustace remarks that "the pictures, or rather the mosaics which have been substituted in the place of the original pictures, may be objected to on the same ground as the statues, as many of them represent persons and events totally unconnected with the sacred records, and sometimes not to be met with even in the annals of authentic history." The candid and judicious Erasmus would have the subjects of all the pictures exhibited in churches taken exclusively from the Holy Scriptures, while the histories of saints, when authentic, he thinks might furnish decorations for porticos, halls, and cloisters; had this advice been followed, many useless, some absurd, and a few profane representations might have been banished from the sacred place.
Shortly after her return from Palestine, Helena was taken ill. "The Empress, perceiving her last hour approach, gave her son excellent instructions concerning the government of his empire, and the manner in which he should regulate his own affairs and those of his family, both temporal and eternal. She commended to his care the legacies which she had made to virgins, and to the Church, as well as certain institutions for poor persons and widows, and the rewards which she was desirous of making her servants and the army, in proportion to their merits and the time they had been in her service. As for the territories she possessed in the Eastern and Western Empire, she bestowed them all on the young Caesar, the child of Constantine, who himself remained seated near her, kissing her hands, and bathing them with his tears. She was more afflicted with the sorrowful necessity of quitting him, than with the approach of death; and, collecting all her remaining strength, she gave him final advice, worthy of a mother and of a Christian princess. When she had communicated all her wishes for his august family and for the empire, she spoke no more, except to supplicate mercy from God: at length, in the midst of the consolations of her faith, full of hope and merit, she departed, to receive in heaven a crown more glorious than that of which death had deprived her." [Butler.]
The spot where Helena expired was, according to some writers, Nicomedia, by other accounts Constantinople, and some fix it at Rome. There is no division as to the day of her death, which is admitted to have been August 18th; but there is a difference of opinion as to the date, some thinking she died in the same year the cross was discovered, others making it one year or two years later. Thus, A.D. 326 is given by some as the date, A.D. 327 by others, and A.D. 328 by the rest.
If in 326 this event is fixed, it was the eightieth year of the Empress' age, and the twentieth of her son Constantine's reign."
Constantine, anxious to pay to the last mortal remains of his mother, that respect which he had never refused her during her life, [Constantine paid to his dying mother, "as he had always done, every duty of filial piety. His tenderness and respect for so worthy a mother, is one of the finest traits of this prince's life."—Crevier.] caused the mournful ceremony of her funeral to be performed with extraordinary pomp and magnificence. By his orders, a porphyry vase, said to be the largest and richest in the world, was made, to contain, not only the ashes, but the whole body of this princess. This vase or urn consisted of one entire piece of porphyry, and the carvings upon it represented a lion and horsemen, with various other figures in bas-relief, without any heathenish emblems, these ornaments being in a middle taste of architecture, resembling those on the triumphal arch of her son Constantine. According to Crevier, the body of St. Helena, having been enclosed in this splendid urn, was conveyed by Constantine's directions to Rome, to be deposited in the tomb of the Emperors, within the walls of the city, and magnificent fetes were held in Rome for the space of three months upon this mournful occasion. Constantine, afterwards thinking that a monument to her own memory alone would be more worthy of this excellent parent, erected a round building outside the city, to receive her honoured remains. This splendid mausoleum was situated near the road to Palestrina, on the Via Lavicana, about three miles from Rome.
According to Nicephorus and others, Helena's body was removed, two years after, from this mausoleum to Constantinople, and buried there; and Constantine, afterwards dying in Nicomedia, was interred with her. In the pretty Church of the Panthenorator, at Constantinople, may be seen the tombs of Constantine and St. Helena, each raised about eight feet high on a column, the summit terminating in a point cut into four sides, in the fashion of a diamond. "While Constantinople was in the power of the Venetians, they took the body of St. Helena from its tomb, and carried it to Venice, where it is now preserved entire. They attempted the same thing with the body of Constantine, but did not succeed: the two tombs are of red jasper, and to this day two broken parts are to be seen on that of Constantine, where they made the attempt." [Travels of La Broquiere, translated by Johnnes.]
As, however, Nicephorus did not live till the fourteenth century, later historians have preferred believing the Torre Pignattara, at Rome, to be the tomb of this famous Empress; [Burton's Rome: Keysler.] and Bower, in his History of the Popes, tells us that this costly sepulchre, made by Constantine, had been plundered by thieves in the time of Innocent II. (A.D. 1143), and the body carried off by them from its tomb. An earlier account places the removal of Helena's body from Rome in 849: yet are the remains of the Empress even to this day worshipped in the Church of the Franciscans at Rome, called Ara Coeli, where they are said to repose in a rich shrine of porphyry, under the high altar, as related by several authors, [Keysler, Butler.] though no record exists of the truth of this assertion. Pope Anastasius IV. found the porphyry sarcophagus, [Bower's Hist. of the Popes.] said to have contained Helena's remains, and "which, being dug up under Torre Pignattara, was damaged in several places. The Pope removed it to the Lateran Church, intending it for his own tomb, for he was a regular canon of that church. At his death, Anastasius was buried in the Lateran, in this tomb of porphyry: another account says, the Pope was disappointed of his intention, and that it has remained empty ever since. The ruins of the vast mausoleum of St. Helena were cleared by Pope Urban VIII. (1644), the structure having been much damaged by the barbarians. This Pope, desirous to preserve the memory of Helena, caused a chapel to be erected there, which he consigned to the protection of St. John de Lateran. From the Church of San Giovanni Laterano, the splendid urn is said to have been removed to its present resting-place, the Vatican Museum, by Pope Pius VI.: it rests there in the Sala a Croce Greca, with the Sarcophagus of St. Constantia, the daughter of her rival Theodora, the second wife of Constantius. [The present state of Torre Pignattara, as described by a traveller of our own times, is a small church, and a still smaller dwelling for the priest who has the care of the church, both being enclosed in a round circular brick wall of very bad architecture.]
In the year 1095, Notkar, Abbot of Hautvilliers, in the diocese of Rheims, wrote a history of the translation of the relics of St. Helena from Rome to that abbey, which was performed in 849, previous to the spoliation of her sepulchre by thieves. That author gives an authentic account of several miracles, wrought through the intercession of the saint, of some of which he testifies himself to have been an eye-witness, and the rest he learnt from the persons on whom they had been performed. [Butler.] Part of this work, which Mr. Butler assures us is well written, was published by the Messieurs de Ste. Marthe and by Mabillon, and almost the whole is inserted by the Bollandists in their great work. The entire MS. copy is preserved at Hautvilliers, with an appendix, written by the same author, containing an account of two other miracles performed by the relics of this saint.
"In 1095, [Ibid.] Stephen of Blois and Adela, daughter of King William the Conqueror, with several members of the noble House of Blois, attended the religious festival of the removal of St. Helena's honoured remains to a place which had been prepared for them in the neighbourhood of Hautvilliers. The ceremony took place, October 28th, 1095, on the festival of St. Simon and St. Jude. Notkar, Abbot of Hautvilliers, who presided on this occasion, and was the original suggester of that posthumous honour to the sainted Empress, thus describes the pageant: "At last the long-desired day arrived, and fell on a Sunday; all the great lights of the monastic order attended, with many archbishops and bishops; and of the secular powers were present Earl Stephen and Adela, his wife, Constance, daughter of Philip, King of France, wife of Hugh, Earl of Treves, Stephen's brother, with many others, respectable in their way, whom I shall not here enumerate. Not only France, but even Lorraine, delighted to send her pious sons to the obsequies of such a queen; for how should not all Christianity applaud her to whom all are so greatly indebted! There is a certain place, in prospect of all Hautvilliers, called by the inhabitants Montescola, where, on the high brow of a hill, a promontory stretches out into a convenient fiat, fit for the reception of such venerated limbs. Here a tent was erected, large enough to accommodate the Earl and Countess, with their family, and all those of the sacred order. A consultation was then held as to what hour of the day the ceremony should take place, and we agreed that it should be after the mystery of the Holy Resurrection had been celebrated by Hugh, Bishop of Soissons; this being over, brethren of proper gravity were selected, who carried the relics of so glorious dust to the appointed place of interment, where the golden urn was opened, and enclosed with the bones was found this writing: 'Corpus Sanctae Helenae Reginae, matris Constantini, sine capite. The body of St. Helena the Queen, the mother of Constantine, saving the head.' The sacred pledges were then deposited in another vase and re-interred, &c." The noblest person there present, Earl Stephen, who as highest in rank, was appointed to present the offering at the tomb; and he still further gratified the monks of Hautvilliers, by granting them some valuable privileges and immunities. Many miracles were said to be afterwards wrought at this tomb, which became no small source of gain to the Monastery of Hautvilliers. [Lives of the Princesses of England, by Mary Anne Everett Green.]
After the death of Helena, ["After Helena's death, Constantine erected to her honoured memory, in the middle of a great square in Constantinople, her own statue and his, with a large cross in the middle. He likewise erected her statue at Daphne, near Antioch, and several other places in Italy."—Butler.] Constantine showed a particular kindness to Constantia, the daughter of Theodora. This princess, after the deaths of her husband and son, accepted an invitation to her brother's court, where she had first shared in the influence of Helena over the Emperor, and subsequently, during the absence of the Empress-Mother in the East, had filled her place near his person. After death had deprived Constantine of his much-cherished parent, Constantia acquired an entire ascendency over her brother. Constantine also raised the brothers of Constantia, and their children, in dignity at this period; and the event proved how much more advantageous had been the previous severity of Helena, even to the princes themselves, than the indulgence of the Emperor; for by raising them, he gave umbrage to his own sons, who were no sooner in possession of the kingdom by his death, than they ruthlessly massacred their uncles and cousins. [Crevier.]
The Arians of this period owed their protection to Constantia's influence with the Emperor, which she exerted as much as possible to ameliorate their sufferings. Arius, the founder of the sect had been excommunicated, and forbidden to enter Alexandria. The Princess afterwards was instrumental in procuring his recall, through the instrumentality of one of his followers, a priest, supposed to have been Acacius, who succeeded Eusebius of Caesarea. This personage insinuated himself into the Princess' confidence, and at length succeeded in making her believe that the disgrace of Arius had been brought about by his bishop's malice, through envy at the esteem in which he was held by the people, and that he was not tainted with the belief for which he had been condemned by the Council of Nice. Constantia adopted his views very forcibly, but dared not address Constantine on the subject. At last being seized with a severe illness, in which she feared her death approaching, she desired the Emperor, as her last request, to admit the priest to his favour, whom she had honoured with her own friendship, and listen to his conversation in matters of religion; adding, that she feared his government would receive a fatal shock from the persecution and banishment of innocent people. Constantine, who was tenderly attached to his sister, promised to attend to her request, and admitted the priest from that time into his confidence; who so effectually worked upon the Emperor's mind, that he secured the recall of Arius from exile; who, after—making a written declaration of his faith, conformable to the doctrines laid down in the Council of Nice, and swearing it to be his true belief, was again received by Constantine into the Christian Church. [History of the Arians.]
The Church of St. Constantia at Rome is situated near that of St. Agnes (without the Porta Pia, or Nomentana): it was formerly the Mausoleum of the Princess Constantia, and at a period still earlier than that, a temple of Bacchus. "The tomb of this British princess, or rather the temple in which she was interred, is of circular form, supported by a row of coupled columns, and crowned with a dome. Behind the pillars runs a gallery, the vaulted roof of which is encrusted with ancient mosaics, representing little genii playing with clusters of grapes, amidst the winding tendrils of the vine. The tomb of the saint, a vast porphyry vase, ornamented with various figures, once stood in a large niche, directly opposite the door; but as the body had been deposited many years ago under the altar, the sarcophagus was transported to the Museum of the Vatican. The Sala a Croce Greca, in the Vatican, containing the above relic of antiquity, is supported by columns, and paved with ancient mosaic: it is furnished with statues, and lined with bassi-relievi." Both the removal of the sarcophagus and the placing the body of the Princess as a saint under the altar of the mausoleum, then converted into a church, were performed by orders of Pope Alexander the Fourth.
"The sarcophagus of St. Constantia, formed with its lid of one block of red porphyry, is beautifully ornamented in basso-relievo, with little infant Cupids employed in the vintage, and bordered with tendrils and arabasques,—an appropriate device for the locality to which the last remains of Constantia were consigned by her brother,—the Temple of Bacchus, and where for ages they remained undisturbed." [Eustace's Tour.]
St. Helena [The Greeks venerate Constantine and Helena together on the 21st of May, In the old style Holy Rood Day was celebrated on the 26th of September. The day of the death of the Empress has received the name of St. Helen's Day. The Church of Rome has ranked this pious princess among her saints, and celebrates her festival by an express service.] was canonized for the great act of bringing the true cross from Jerusalem to Italy.
Herself in person went to seek that sacred cross,
Whereon our Saviour died; which found, as it was sought,
From Salem unto Rome triumphantly she brought."
Drayton's Poly Olbion.
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was celebrated by the Roman Church [In the year 642, Heraclitus restored to Mount Calvary the true cross, which had been carried off, fourteen years before, by Cosroes, King of Persia, upon his taking Jerusalem from the Emperor Phocas; in memory of this event the festival of the Exaltation of the Cross was afterwards held on the 14th of September.—Ency. Brit.] on the 14th of September, and also at Jerusalem by the Greeks and Latins as early as the year 335. The first occasion of this festival was the miraculous appearance of the cross to Constantine, and the subsequent discovery of that sacred wood by the Empress-Mother, St. Helena. [The ecclesiastical emblems with which St. Helena is represented are these; she is crowned, with a large cross in her arms, of a tall stature, and she is also occasionally depicted with a beard, and tied to the cross. S. Borgia de Cruce Veliterna, c. 27, &c. At the foot of the Velitern Cross, beneath the figure of our Lord, is a circular compartment, with a half-figure of a woman, having a nimbus round the head, the hair curled, and adorned with a band, as if of pearls, and in a rich jewelled dress. This may be conjectured to be the Empress Helena, to whom was granted the favour of finding the true cross, and who is represented in several ancient crosses. On the reverse side, in the centre compartment, is an Agnus Dei, enamelled upon a field of gold, without nimbus or banner, which are usually found in this emblem of the Lamb which is so frequent in early Christian art. In the oldest examples, as in this, the colour of the cross is red. Puqin's Glossary of Ecclesiastical Architecture.]The 14th of September is called Holyrood Day. In former times every church had its rood-loft, which was a gallery across the nave, at the entrance of the chancel of the church, on which the holy rood or cross, when perfectly made, had the image of our Saviour extended with that of the Virgin Mary and St. John on each side. This representation alluded to a passage in St. John (chapter xix. v. 26), Christ on the Cross saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by. This was called the rood, and it was placed over the screen which divided the nave from the chancel of our churches, and conveyed to our ancestors a full type of the Christian Church. The Church militant was represented by the nave, the Church triumphant by the chancel, intimating that all who would go from the one to the other, must pass under the rood, or in other words, carry the cross and suffer affliction. Instances of the rood may be seen in Norwich and Winchester Cathedrals.
That in Norwich Cathedral was erected by Bishop Hart. It is at present the organ loft, on which was erected the principal rood or cross: beneath it was situated Holyrood Chapel, in which Jesus' mass was sung once every week.
To the Chapel of the Sepulchre, in Winchester Cathedral, which is a dark chapel below the organ stairs, there used formerly to be great resort in Holy Week, to witness the Mass of the Passion of our Saviour, as yet celebrated in the Roman churches on the Continent. On the walls of this chapel are discovered rude paintings of the taking down from the cross, the lying in the sepulchre, the descent into limbus, and the appearance of our Lord to Mary Magdalen, from whose lips the word "Rabboni" is seen to proceed, with kindred subjects.
Since the 8th century the festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross has been removed by the Latin church to the 3rd of May, which is called Holy Cross Day, or the Day of the Invention of the Cross; it being supposed that the event took place about the month of May, or early in the spring of the year 326. [Butler, Burton.]
One of the earliest Christian writers has composed two hymns for the occasions of Holy Cross Day and Holy Rood Day, and they may be found in the Roman breviary. One of these alludes to the passion flower, which has obtained the name of the Holyrood flower, not only because it flowers at this period of the year, but because the leaves, tendrils, and different parts of the flower, have been supposed, by the religious, to represent the instruments of our blessed Saviour's passion; whence the name Passi Flora, and the great veneration in which it is held in some foreign countries: the five stamens have been compared to the five wounds of Christ, the three styles to the nails by which he was fixed to the cross, the column which elevates the germs to the cross itself or to the pillar to which he was bound, and the rays of the nectary to the crown of thorns. [Hortus Anglicus.] The common passion flower, which lasts a long while in blossom, generally goes out of flower after Holyrood.
In the primitive ages of Christianity, before churches for divine worship were common, service was often performed under a cross raised in some convenient place. Such was St. Paul's Cross in London, where the practice continued until the Reformation. Such was also the antique cross in the Market-place of Halifax, Yorkshire. The cross being a sign used in civil contracts, it became usual to touch or swear by it before reading and writing in transactions relative to public and private business, and crosses were erected in the open places of towns and cities, where even to this day fairs, marts, statutes, and markets are held. [Green's Hist. of Worcester.] Sermons were preached at these spots, and public pageants or processions usually commenced from them or terminated there: hence Edward I. erected crosses at every place where the corpse of Queen Eleanor rested on its way to interment, desiring those spots to be considered holy. Every churchyard in early times had its cross, on which the bodies of the dead were placed while the service was read; every turning in the road had also its cross, and the boundaries of parishes had the same marks. [Clavis Calendaria.]
At Leighton Buzzard, in Bedfordshire, is a relic of considerable antiquity, in the form of a Gothic cross of stone, beautiful even in decay; it stands in the open area of the Market-place, and is supposed to have withstood the operations of time for more than 500 years, but by whom or on what occasion it was erected, even tradition does not attempt to reveal; its form is pentagonal, in height thirty-eight feet: the upper story is divided into five niches, each containing a statue; the first is in an episcopal habit, the second represents the Virgin and Jesus, the third appears to be designed for St. John the Evangelist, the others are too mutilated to be defined.
In the centre of the square at Halifax, a little higher in the street than the cross, stood a Maypole used by the Romans in their celebrated festival called Floralia, which usually commenced on the 4th of the Calends of May. The feasts held at that time were called Maxima, and were kept by costly banquets and oblations. Constantine the Great forbade these entertainments, but they were renewed by Honorius and Arcadius in the first year of their empire, and in Britain, under other forms, have descended to our own times.
Nothing can exceed the affection the Britons testified for the memory of their excellent Empress, St. Helena. To this patroness of churches innumerable sacred edifices have been dedicated throughout our island; to enumerate the whole of them would be impossible. Far and wide, edifices, crosses, roads, and other monuments, have been raised to perpetuate her goodness.
In Colchester, the native place of St. Helena, most things have reference to her and to her finding the cross; the streets in particular exemplify this, the main street representing the shaft or body of the cross, and Head Street and North Hill the transverse part of the same. [Morant's Hist. of Colchester.] In the parish of St. Nicholas, in that city, there is a cave bearing this princess' name; and the chapel, a place of great antiquity, is said to have been founded by the Empress herself. Just within the entrance of Colchester Castle are also exhibited some clumsy images of Helena and Constantine, carved in stone, but manifestly of modern date. A curious testimonial to the Empress exists in King Henry the Fifth's Charter to the City of Colchester, the initial letter of which represents St. Helena before the cross finely illuminated. [Britton and Brayley.]
In London, where Helena held her court alternately with Colchester, a religious edifice, to the east of Crosby Square, was founded by William Fitzwilliam, in commemoration of the discovery of the cross by St. Helena. It is said to have been built A.D. 1210, and was called "the Priory of St. Helen's the Less." The Church of St. Helen's the Great stands north-east of Threadneedle Street.
In Yorkshire [Allen's Hist. of York.] abundant traces exist of St. Helena; in York four churches bear her much-loved name: attached to one, an ancient edifice in the parish of Leeds, was a medicinal well, yet in existence. There was also Burgh Wallis, near Doncaster, St. Helen's Foord, at Wetherby, and St. Ellen's Chapel, at Wilton, which last was founded by Sir William Bulmer in the reign of Henry the Eighth; one in Werkdyke, another at Kilusea, in the Holderness wapentake, with the churches of Skipwith, Stillingfleet, Thoranby, in the Ouse and Derwent wapentake. In Cornwall there is a church dedicated to St. Helen, and the Church of Elstow or Helenstowe in Bedford, since turned into a monastery, is also named as having this Queen for its patron saint.
There are churches dedicated to St. Helena at Derby, Warrington, East Medina in the Isle of Wight, Norwich, Worcester, and Abingdon. St. Helen's, Worcester, is one of the most ancient edifices in that city. [Green's Worcester.] The ancient hospital of St. Helen, at Abingdon, when refounded in 1533, received the denomination of Christchurch. [Magna. Brit.] In Monmouthshire churches exist of St. Helen's name: there is also one at Wilton, a town situated in a vale on the Humber, dedicated to her. St. Helen's Porch is yet in existence in the mean church of St. Helen's, Auckland, a village so called from the name of the Empress. In 1844, in the month of April, the tongue of the bell of St. Helen's, Auckland, dropped out, which, after having been divested of the rust which had been accumulating from time immemorial, was found to bear this inscription: "Sancta Helena, ora pro nobis," also a bishop's mitre and crest, with the initials A. and W. at right angles. Very superstitious ideas were formerly attached to bells. [Fosbrooke's British Monachism.]
At the east end of the side-aisles in Durham Cathedral are gates leading into the east transept, commonly called the Nine Altars. One of these altars was dedicated to St. Aidan and St. Helena. [Hutchinson's Durham.]
This interesting part of Durham Cathedral is thus described:—
"In the eastern or highest part within the church were the nine altars, dedicated and erected in honour of several saints, and of them taking their names, as the inscriptions thereof will declare; the altars being placed north and south, one from another; along the front of the church, in an alley the whole breadth thereof. In the middle of which front was the Altar of the Holy Fathers, St. Cuthbert and St. Bede, having all the aforesaid altars equally divided on either hand, on the south four, and on the north four.
"On the south were the following:
"1. The Altar of St. Oswald and St. Lawrence.
"2. The Altar of St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Catherine.
"3. The Altar of St. John the Baptist and St. Margaret.
"4. The Altar of St. Andrew and St. Mary Magdalene, being the outermost altar towards the south.
" On the north side of St. Cuthbert and St. Bede's Altar, were these four following:
"1. The Altar of St. Martin and St. Edmund.
"2. The Altar of St. Peter and St. Paul.
"3. The Altar of St. Aidanus and St. Helena.
"4. The Altar of the Holy Archangel, St. Michael, being the outermost towards the north.
" Over each of these altars is a window representing the history which is attached to it. On the north side, the third was the picture of St. Aidane and St. Helena, with the like windows and lights as the rest, presenting the picture of St. Aidane in his episcopal attire, with a crosier in his hand, whose soul after his death was represented to be carried to heaven in a sheet by two angels. In this were some part of the history of Christ, and the picture of a king and two other saints; as also the picture of St. Helena in a blue habit, she being a princess; which contained the story of the religious of all orders of her sex, and her resorting often to their churches, and the picture of Our Lady and the Angel Gabriel appearing to her, and the Holy Ghost overshadowing her, with the lily springing out of the lilypot; and underneath the middle stone-work were four angels. Above were four turret windows, with four apostles; and the picture of God Almighty above all, in another little window, with Christ in his arms." [This extract is taken from the "History and Antiquities of Durham Cathedral," to which the reader is referred for an account at length of the other eight altars.]
It would almost appear that the subject of the Conception had been expressly selected for St. Helen's window, from the fact that a slur had been thrown on her bright fame by the second marriage of her husband, and that the lily springing forth from the lilypot was an emblem of her innocence.
"A Popish chapel, dedicated to St. Helen, was in use in Queen Elizabeth's time, in Halifax in Yorkshire, near the remains of which, in the present day, is a remarkably fine well, bearing also the name of the Empress. Very near St. Helen's Well, a spot yet bears the name of Halliwell, or Holy Well Green. [" I have the copy of a deed without date, but which, by the witnesses, must have been executed between the years 1279 and 1324, wherein William de Osete grants an assart in Linley to Henry de Sacro Fonte de Staynland, which shows that the name of the above Holy Well is no new conceit, but a real piece of antiquity, perhaps much older than the time of this deed."—Watson's Hist. of Halifax.] It was common among the early Christians to dedicate remarkable springs to particular saints, to whose merits any cures they might perform were attributed. Upon the saint's day whose name the well bore, the people were wont to assemble to make their offerings or vow to her, a custom which was afterwards changed to that of adorning the well with boughs and flowers, and entertaining themselves with music, dancing, eating cakes, and drinking ale. The Chapel of St. Helen, at Halifax, is now converted into a cottage, but, it can be seen, has been a place of greater account: in one of the walls they show you a large stone, which is called the Cross," continues the historian of this place, "which is sometimes visited by strangers, who at the same time inquire for the well; and from the behaviour of some of them, the inhabitants concluded they were Papists, whose zeal brought them hither to behold this once famous place, of which their forefathers were despoiled. Clarke Bridge, Halifax, seems to have been first built by the clergy, to enable them to pass more conveniently from the church to the Holy Well on the opposite bank."
The worship of springs and fountains is of very ancient date, as appears from heathen authors and Christian monuments, and among many other British customs, was kept up by the Saxons long after their conversion to Christianity. This appears from injunctions and canons made to forbid them. In 967, it appears from some constitutions of Edgar, taken from a Saxon penitential: "We teach that priests shall abolish all heathenish superstitions, and forbid the worship of wells, and of trees, and of stones." Here an allusion is also made to the stone altars erected in the fields, of which many remains may be found. The same penitential contains a prohibition against "vowing or bringing alms or offerings to any wells, or stones, or tree, or to any creature, but only in God's name to God's church." A Saxon homily of Bishop Lupus, mentions some, who, being seduced by the devil, in their afflictions vow their alms either to well or stone; and in another, he cautions men against worshipping wells or trees. This foolish custom of worshipping and bringing offerings to trees and fountains continued after the Conquests, as appears by a synod at London in 1102, by the constitutions of Walter, Bishop of Worcester, in 1240, and the injunctions of Oliver, Bishop of Lincoln, in 1280; which two last forbid the worshipping of Cerne and Roll's Well, St. Edward's Well, near St. Clement's at Oxford, and St. Laurence's Well, near Peterborough. [Mag. Brit.] The superstitious veneration paid to St. Winifred's Well needs scarcely to be mentioned. [Morant's History and Antiquities of Essex.]
After the accession of Constantine to the imperial dignity, Helena is said to have revisited her native country. It is on record, that she did so after her return from Palestine, which is unlikely at her extreme age: at an earlier date she most probably returned to Britain, either to visit her grandson Constans, or to inspect the government which Constantine had entrusted to his delegates. Kennet, in his "Parochial Antiquities," declares, that "after Helena discovered the cross, and on her return homewards, she built a castle of her own name in Silesia, and another in Spain, near Callacium, which we now call Cales; and first arriving in Ireland, which was but a short cut from Spain, and thence steering for North Wales, landed at Aber Segont, near that fair walled town which we now call Caernarvon, where Constans, her grandchild, had built a city." Within the old town there still stands a little chapel, and a delicate spring of running water close by, both bearing St. Helen's name, in memory of her landing there; and from the gates of this city is both a crossway and also a cross of stone, standing in Bivio. Between the two ways, ariseth a great causey of hard durable stone, for such is the nature of those stones that they will not wear away, the way on each side being worn out knee-deep, which the inhabitants call Sarn Elen Weddaw, i.e., St. Helen the Powerful's Causeway, and runneth southward through the rocky ragged straits of the mountains, even to the south parts of the kingdom." [Kennett's Parochial Antiquities.]
The noted Sam or Llwybr Helen, the Causeway or Path of Helen, which is a road through North Wales, supposed to have been made by this Queen, [Pennant.] is thus described by Pennant:—" This road is now entirely covered with turf, but by the rising of it, is in most parts very visible; beneath are the stones which form it, and it extends in all its course to the breadth of eight yards. There are tumuli near it in various places, it being very usual for the Romans to inter near their highways. Close to the part in question (where this road appears for the first time on a common) is one, in which were found five urns; the whole materials of it are composed of burnt earth and stones, with several fragments of bricks, which had been placed round the urns to keep them from being crushed."
The causeway of Helen also ran under the summit of the vast Berwyn mountains, being there an artificial road called Fordd Helen, or Helen's way, [Pennant, from the annotation on Camden.] and those also in Llanbadyr Odyn in Cardiganshire, and from Brecknock to Neath in Glamorganshire, passed under the name of this great Empress. Pen Caer Helen is a lofty hill, about twenty-four miles from Segontium: Pennant ascended to the summit, in hopes of discovering more of Helen's noted road, but without success. Mars ar Helen, or the Field of Helen, is also the name given to another part which Giraldus considered the course of the road. Of the Via Devana, the same author remarks: "There is no Roman road so perfect as this; like the Via Occidentalis, it bears the name of Sarn Helen. The foundation of almost all the roads through Wales have, in fact, been attributed to St. Helena, the mother of Constantine. [Kennett's Parochial Antiquities.]