WESTERN ROMAN EMPERORS
EMPEROR CONSTANTINE I THE GREAT
BYTHYNIA KINGDOM (400-149BCE)
A book on display in the Saint Helen's Church York, in Stonegate on the tourist route, contains the interesting story of Saint Helena's life.
Book in St Helen's Church
Helena, or Helen, the patron saint of this church, had humble beginnings. Although no contemporary account mentions her birthplace most modern historians think that she was born in about 250CE in Bithynia, an area in present day Turkey, where her son later named a city in her honour. Later on, many cities including York, claimed her as their own, but there is no evidence that she visited Britain.
Helena seems to have been a barmaid or stable girl when she met Constantius, an officer in the Roman army. She had a son by him, Constantine, in about 272. Constantius had high political ambitions, and in around 288 he married the emperorís daughter. Constantius became joint emperor in turn in 305, and was in York when he died in 306 and his son Constantine was proclaimed emperor by the troops.
Constantine honoured his mother by proclaiming her Augusta, or empress, in 324. The family life of Roman emperors seem always to have been stormy, and the family quarrels when led to the violent deaths of her grandson and daughter-in-law may have strengthened a desire to leave Rome and journey to the Holy Land when she was aged about 78. Journeying to Jerusalem, even with the privileges of an empress, would have been no small undertaking and she probably went overland. She is said to have visited the Holy Places associated with Christís life and to have founded churches in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives. The positions of the Holy Sites were already well known, as the Emperor Hadrian had erected pagan temples in his attempt to stamp out the Christian religion. St Jerome reported that a statue of Jupiter stood at the site of the resurrection and one of Venus at Golgotha; these landmarks quickly showed where to dig, as the local Christians were well aware of their true significance. Helena died about 330 at the age of eighty, soon after her return to Rome.