Today, before starting a series on misconceptions about women in the Middle Ages, I want to honor my namesake, St. Helena, who located the site of Christ's grave. Below is a brief summary of her life and the story of the church erected on that site: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
We know that at about this time, people living in the Holy Land began to revere a relic which they believed was the cross on which Christ had been crucified. According to the Church historian Rufinius writing in 403, this object was discovered after Empress Helena ordered excavations in the environs of the Temple to Venus, known to have been erected on the site of Christ's crucifixion by Roman emperors intent on eradicating the worship of Christ. Early accounts say that she and the Bishop Marcarius undertook the excavations, discovering under the porch of the Roman temple ancient quarries or tombs. According to Rufinius (writing less than a century after the alleged events), they found three crosses in one of these. Taking pieces of each, they brought these to a sick woman, who on contact with the third recovered miraculously. Thereafter, that cross was revered as the cross on which Christ had been crucified. It as divided into several pieces, and these were distributed to various churches, only one being retained in Jerusalem.
Empress Helena also located the site of the Nativity and was responsible for the construction of a great church on this site as well. (See: Church of the Nativity) Roughly one decade later, Empress Helena died and shortly afterwards was canonized as St. Helena.
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