Flavia Julia Helena was born in Drepanum, the daughter of an
innkeeper. It was in that inn that she met and eventually married
a Roman General Constantius Chlorus. They had one son, Constantine.
Later, Diocletian made Constantius Caesar. Diocletian then persuaded
Constantius to divorce Helena because of her lowly socioeconomic
roots and marry a woman of higher social status. Fourteen years
after the divorce, Constantius died. Constantius' troops declared
Constantine, his son, as Caesar. Constantine officially became
Emperor 18 months later.
Because Helena suffered much public disgrace and humiliation
from the divorce, Constantine expediently honored his mother by
renaming her birthplace after her, calling it Helenopolis. He
ordered coins to be struck in her image. He further honored her
with the title "Empress of the World" and "Mistress
of the Empire."
Helena converted to the Catholic Faith at about 63 years old.
Constantine, himself, was not a catechumen for long, before he
died. Because Helena had much "fervor and zeal", she
swiftly advanced in the Faith. She was very kind and charitable.
She humbly served the poor as well as the religious becoming what
Eusebius describes as a "handmaid of Christ." She prayed
the Divine Office and made pilgrimages to the Holy Land. She was
nearly 80 years old when she helped build a church in Bethlehem
near the Grotto of the Nativity and a church near Jerusalem on
the Mount of Olives. She helped build other churches before that
and supplied them with valuable vessels and ornaments. St. Ambrose
credits St. Helena for finding the True Cross and the three nails
from Jesus' crucifixion.