The Saint Helen venerated today is a composite of several famous Helens throughout history. Thus, there are many variations to her story. This is my favoured version.
Born Flavia Julia Helena Augusta, Helen was the daughter of an inn keeper in Bithynia. Besides working the bar for her father, she was both a courtesan and a devotee of the goddess Aphrodite. As such, she helped one of the temples dedicated to Aphrodite to raise money by helping men to reach the ecstatic state needed to commune with the divine by having sex with them.
At some point Constantius, the Roman emperor of the time, fell in love with her. As to whether this was when he was wetting his parched throat or when he was piously preparing himself to enter the presence of Aphrodite, I’ll leave to your imagination. Either way, he soon married her and fathered Constantine. Love, however, was second to power for Constantius, so when he found another marriage that could further his position, he divorced Helen and banished her from Rome.
Despite her exile, Helen was still able to keep contact with Constantine and because their relationship was so close, she held a great deal of influence over him. When Constantius passed on and Constantine ascended to the throne, one of his first acts was to bring Helen back to Rome. However, it was not her destiny to stay there long. Not many years after her return, a scandal broke out that would cause her to flee until the dust cleared.
Constantine’s wife accused his son from a prior marriage, Crispus, of raping her. Without even questioning his son, Constantine had him executed. Whether it was truth or merely a way to eliminate a woman she never liked, Helen later convinced Constantine that his wife had actually seduced the son. Constantine had his wife suffocated in a bath. When someone familiar with what happened went public with the story, the people, who quite respected Constantine’s wife, were infuriated. In fear for her life, Helen fled.
It was sometime after her escape that Saint Helen began to collect holy relics. She went to Jerusalem and is credited with uncovering the cross Jesus was crucified on. She found it in a crypt underneath a destroyed temple of Aphrodite. In addition, in the same crypt, she also found three nails from the crucifixion, the spear that was thrust through Jesus’ side and the image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.
According to legend she kept the spear and image but did the following with the three nails:
- Kept one for a relic.
- Threw one into sea for the salvation of drowned sailors.
- Dedicated one to all the lovers of the world, so they do not have to suffer from broken hearts.