Saint Helena

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Helena, Saint

(hĕl`ənə), c.248–328?, mother of Constantine I. She became a Christian in 313. According to tradition she found (327) the relic of the True Cross in Jerusalem and identified the location of the Holy Sepulcher. Feast: Aug. 18.

Saint Helena

(həlē`nə), island, 47 sq mi (122 sq km), in the S Atlantic Ocean, 1,200 mi (1,931 km) W of Africa. Together with the islands of AscensionAscension
, island (1998 pop. 712), 34 sq mi (88 sq km), in the S Atlantic, NW of Saint Helena and belonging to the British St. Helena overseas territory. Georgetown is the main settlement and port.
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 and Tristan da CunhaTristan da Cunha
, group of volcanic islands in the S Atlantic, about midway between S Africa and S America, part of the British Saint Helena overseas territory. The only habitable island of the group is Tristan da Cunha (1999 pop. 286), formed by a volcano rising to c.
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, it comprises the British overseas territory of St. Helena (2015 est. pop. 7,800). The capital and port is JamestownJamestown,
town, port, and capital (1998 pop. 864) of Saint Helena, in the S Atlantic. Once a busy coaling station on the East India route, it lost its importance after the opening of the Suez Canal, although it still supplies water to passing vessels.
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. Mountainous and of volcanic origin, the island rises to a height of 2,685 ft (818 m) on Mt. Actaeon. About half the people are of African descent, while a quarter each are of European or Chinese background. The population is mainly Christian and English-speaking. The economy depends largely on support from Great Britain; livestock are raised and there is a fishing industry. The island was accessible only by ship until a commercial airport opened in 2016. Saint Helena is governed by the constitution of 1989. It has a unicameral 16-seat Legislative Council, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a governor, is the head of state; the governor is the head of government. Saint Helena is divided into one administrative area and two dependencies.


Discovered uninhabited by the Portuguese navigator João da Nova Castella in 1502, St. Helena was annexed by the Dutch in 1633. In 1659 it was annexed and occupied by the British East India Company, and in 1834 it became a British crown colony. The island served as a prison for Boers (Afrikaners) from 1900 to 1902 during the South African WarSouth African War
or Boer War,
1899–1902, war of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State against Great Britain. Background
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. St. Helena is best known as the place of exile of Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
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, who was sent there in 1815 and who died at Longwood, near Jamestown, in 1821. His home is maintained as a memorial.

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Helena, Saint (c. 248-c. 329)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Saint Helena (Flavia Iulia Helena) was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 272–337). She was born in the southern Balkans at Drepanum (later known as Helenopolis) on the Nicomedian Gulf, as the daughter of an innkeeper. She married Constantius Chlorus (250–306), the Roman emperor in the west during the last two years of his life. She was put aside by her husband around 292 as he wished to marry up. Nonetheless, Helena’s son Constantine would succeed his father in the emperor’s chair. He favored Christianity, and his mother converted. She became not only a devout but an enthusiastic Christian who used her position as the beloved mother of the emperor to assist the spread of Christianity. A variety of churches in different locations cite her as the force behind their founding.

Saint Helena is most remembered, however, for her visit to Palestine late in her life. She visited both Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and she is said to have been responsible for the construction of the Church of the Nativity and a basilica on the rocky outcropping then believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. In moving around Jerusalem, she had workers clear the debris that had accumulated in previous centuries. It was in cleaning the debris at the reputed site of Jesus’ burial that she discovered what she believed was the true cross upon which Jesus had been crucified. Actually, she discovered three crosses, those of Christ and the two thieves who were crucified with him. To discern which was the True Cross, she brought them to a woman ill with an incurable disease. The woman touched each cross. After touching one of them, she was immediately cured. That cross was designated the True Cross. Subsequently, Helena divided the cross into three pieces. One was taken to Constantinople, one sent to Rome, and one remained in Jerusalem.

While the wood of the True Gross may have been the most notable item recovered by Helena, she also was said to have located numerous other items, such as an icon drawn by Saint Luke and the relics of the three Magi who had visited the infant Jesus. She also traveled into the Sinai Desert and designated the mountain where God gave the law to Moses. There she erected a tower, which subsequently became the site of Saint Catherine’s Monastery, home to the burning bush.

There is much doubt as to the veracity of the story of Helena in the Holy Land. Her contemporary, Christian historian Eusebius (d. 342), wrote of her journey, mentioning a variety of occurrences and describing her hope of finding something that would be a direct link to Jesus Christ. But he does not mention any success in that quest. The first mention of her finding the cross was in 395, when Saint Ambrose of Milan referred to it in a sermon preached on the sixty-fifth anniversary of Helena’s death. It is then described in the edited copy of Eusebius’ Church History in the material added by Rufinus (c. 345–410), who included the story of the miraculous resurrection.

The Helena story was accepted by many in the Middle Ages. The growing legend, especially as it expanded during the medieval era when so many “relics” were brought to Europe, became one of the most potent forces in the revamping of Catholic piety in the centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation. It is also to be noted that the Atlantic island upon which Napoleon was exiled is named for her.


Borgehammar, Stephen. How the Holy Cross Was Found: From Event to Medieval Legend. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1991.
Pohlsander, Hans A. Helena: Empress and Saint. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1995.
Thiede, Carsten Peter, and Matthew d’Ancona. The Quest for the True Cross. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Whatley, Gordon. “Constantine the Great, the Empress Helena, and the Relics of the Holy Cross.” In Thomas Head, ed. Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology,Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 1942: 77–95. New York: Garland, 2000.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

Saint Helena

place of Napoleon’s second exile (1815). [Fr. Hist.: NCE, 2397]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saint Helena

a volcanic island in the SE Atlantic, forming a UK Overseas Territory with its dependencies Tristan da Cunha and Ascension, and the uninhabited Gough, Inaccessible, and Nightingale Islands): discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 and annexed by England in 1651; scene of Napoleon's exile and death. Capital: Jamestown. Pop.: 5644 (2003 est.). Area: 122 sq. km (47 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005