St. Helena Island is named after Saint Helena, a christian saint. Saint Helena or Saint Helen (in Latin Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta), c.250 – c.330ad, was the wife of the Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus and the mother of the emperor Constantine the Great. According to tradition she made a pilgrimage to Syria Palaestina, during which she discovered the True Cross of Jesus’s crucifixion. As a result she is revered as a saint by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican and the Lutheran churches.
Where she was born is uncertain. It is said that Helena was a native of Drepanum, in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Her son Constantine renamed the city “Helenopolis” after her death around 330, which suggests that at least he believed she was born there. Her date of birth is also uncertain. Historian Eusebius of Caesarea writes that she was 80 years old on her return from Palestine, and since that journey is understood to have occured in 326-28, she was probably born around 250ad. Sources written after Constantine’s proclamation as emperor gloss over or ignore her background, suggesting she was not of noble birth.
Her precise relationship to Constantius Chlorus is also unclear. While some sources describe her as his “wife”, others suggest she was his mistress or common-law wife and that they never formally married.
After her son Constantine became emperor he appointed Helena as Augusta Imperatrix, giving her unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. In 326-28 Helena undertook a trip to the Holy Places in Palestine. Jerusalem was still being rebuilt following the destruction caused by Emperor Hadrian, who had built a temple over the claimed site of Jesus’s tomb near Calvary.
The story goes that Helena ordered the temple torn down and began excavating, which led to the recovery of three different crosses. Helena had a woman who was near death brought from the city; when the woman touched the first and second crosses her condition did not change, but when she touched the third cross she suddenly recovered. Thus Helena declared this to be the True Cross of Jesus.
Some stories further claim that Helena also found the nails of the crucifixion, and that – to use their miraculous power to aid her son – Helena had one placed in Constantine’s helmet and another in the bridle of his horse.
She is sometimes known as Helen of Constantinople to distinguish her from others with similar names. She is also patron saint of archaeologists, for obvious reasons.
THE ISLAND’S NAME
Most historical accounts state that the island was discovered on 21st May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova, sailing at the service of Portugal. Anchoring in what is now James Bay, it is said that he named it “Santa Helena” after Helena of Constantinople, whose Saints Day falls on 21st May.
So the most that can be said is that St. Helena is that it shares its name with Saint Helena, who alledgedy found the cross of Jesus. And that we celebrate 21st May as St. Helena’s day (our national day).