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Helena, Saint

cross true appears century

Helena was the mother of the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine and the wife of the general Constantius Chlorus. She converted to Christianity c.312 and was deeply admired for her piety and charity. In 326 she undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where she died after having founded numerous churches on sites associated with the life and passion of Christ (notably the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). Although not mentioned in early biographical sources such as Eusebius, Helena’s discovery of the True Cross was described by Saint Ambrose in the late fourth century, and later greatly elaborated in fifth-century apocryphal works (the Acts of Judas Cyriacus ), and the Golden Legend . She appears in medieval art primarily in pictorial narratives of the discovery (“invention,” from Latin inventio, “coming upon” ) of the True Cross: questioning the Jews as to the location of the cross and overseeing the proof of the True Cross (which, unlike the other two tested, brought a dead person back to life). She is also credited with discovering several other important relics: the nails used in the Crucifixion and Christ’s robe. She appears, crowned and garbed as an empress, with Constantine (they often stand on either side of the cross) or, accompanied by the cross-bearing angel who appeared to her in a dream.
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