Mother of Constantine the Great
The varied and romantic life of Helena has in it the makings of an interesting historical novel. Much of Helena’s life history is unknown including her nationality and actual date of her birth. We don’t know much about her beginnings except that she was the daughter of an obscure innkeeper. But we do know that as a Roman soldier Constantius Chlorus met her, loved her, and married her. It was about 272 when Constantine was born to them, probably in Britain. Constantius became co-emperor by appointment of Diocletian. For political reasons, he was compelled to divorce Helena and marry the daughter of Maximilian. By this cruel act Helena was abandoned and sent back to a life of obscurity and loneliness.
After Constantius and Diocletian both died, Helena’s son Constantine won his way to the throne. One of his first acts as emperor was to bring his mother out of political exile. He restored to her the imperial dignity, gave her the title of Augusta, and caused her to be received at court with al the honor due the mother of an emperor.
The conversion of Constantine marks an epoch in the world’s history. He adopted Christianity as the religion of state, a marvelous contrast to the attempt of Diocletian to utterly exterminate it. Persecutions were now at an end. By circular letter, Constantine urged his subjects to follow their emperor and become Christians. When he embraced Christianity, Helena gave him strong support and encouragement. She became known as a devout Christian herself and took upon herself the task of finding and restoring sacred historical sites of Christianity. She made pilgrimages to Bethlehem and Jerusalem seeking the original locations associated with the life of Jesus in order to bring honor to them. She influenced the emperor to build churches throughout Palestine, and oversaw the construction of those churches herself. Helena also became know for her good works. She ministered to the needs of the poor, the widows, and the orphans throughout the empire.
At her death, Constantine paid his mother the highest honors. Her body was sent to Rome and placed in the tomb of the emperors. He made her native village a monument to her memory by raising it to the rank of a city, giving it the name Helenopolis.
This article may be reprinted as long as it includes the following resource box: Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and creator of History’s Women Website at www.HistorysWomen.com. Visit her site and sign up for her FREE weekly newsletter. Patti is also author of the newly released book “History’s Women – The Unsung Heroines” available in ebook format at http://historyswomen.com/product/historys-women/