Saint Helena (Agia Eleni) is a figure shrouded in mystery. The mother of the Emperor Constantine, nobody’s sure where or when she was born, where she spent her early years, or even whether she was married to Constantine’s father Constinius or was just his mistress. However, she burst into history when her son, by then emperor, asked her to visit the Holy Land to find and recover Judeo-Christian relics. Her trip took place during the years 326–328 AD – by which time she was in her seventies. While there, she investigated the scenes of Christ’s birth, crucifixion and ascension, and had built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Mount of Olives over the first and last of these. During the excavations, she is said to have discovered parts of Christ’s tunic, ropes and nails used to bind him to the Cross, the cross of the penitent thief, and the True Cross itself (identified by its power to cure the sick). On her way back to Rome, the story goes, she came to Cyprus and built more churches, leaving relics in Tochni and Stavrovouni. She died around 330 AD, and her tomb can today be seen in the Italian capital.

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