St Helena (c249-c329), the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, is celebrated for her discovery of the Cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
Helena was probably born at Drepanum, near modern Izmir, sprung according to Constantine’s secretary Eutropius ex obscuriore matrimonio. Later in the fourth century St Ambrose suggested that she was an innkeeper’s daughter, while Philostorgius, another Christian writer, described her as “a common woman not different from strumpets”.
Around 272 Helena had a son by the Roman general Constantius Chlorus, who
later became Emperor and died at York in 306. Although Constantius Chlorus had long separated from Helena, their son, the new Emperor, remained loyal, bestowing on her the title Nobilissima Femina. Eusebius (died 340) claimed that Helena was converted to Christianity around 312, after the
Emperor, apparently inspired by a flaming cross, had destroyed his rivals at the Milvian Bridge. She was almost 80, however, when, in 327-8, she made her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And not until some 70 years after her death did the story of her association with the True Cross became widespread.