III – St. Helena – The Empress

Originally written by me in December 2006

I too really like the association of St. Helena with this card.

Helena had progressive ideas, remarkable character, and was a true Imperial Empress in the best sense of that ideal. I’ve always been iffy on a view of this card as simply the Mom card, as if that was the salient thing about this archetype. I don’t subscribe to that narrow formula. An Empress may be a mother but she is really a leader, and embodies the qualities of balanced wisdom and stewardship toward the people she rules, with the power and influence needed to rule.

The political times were very confusing then. The Emperor Diocletian set up a tetrarchia of leadership where he split the vast empire into four large districts. He was the main senior emperor with his co-emperor Maximian, also a senior (both termed Augusti), and two junior emperors (both termed Cesari) ruling west and east districts. Helena’s husband Constantius was the junior emperor of the Western Roman Empire. He divorced her to marry Maximian’s daughter, hoping to cement his power perhaps at the instigation of Diocletian . So after 20 years of marriage, Helena disappears until her son comes to power.

The tetrarchs eventually gave way to her son Constantine as the sole emperor. Discarded for 16 years, Helena made a comeback as a valued member of the Imperial family, given the honour of the titles Augusta and Nobilissima Femina. An honoured noble woman, but also perhaps the ideal of the noble Feminine principle. The ultimate, the Imperial, a most high and prominent woman, the Empress.

She was a very charitable ruler, both in the Empire and in the Holy Land where she is said to have discovered the True Cross. Digest this with a grain of salt and yet remember that it is this “fact” that brings her memory to us in both the celebrations of the Catholic Church and the orthodox Eastern churches. Her son founded the city of Constantinople after all and Byzantium also celebrates her. She was a prominent Christian who funded and built many churches, and was in the forefront of establishing the Christian church at that time and providing spiritual leadership. Charity, loving concern for people, faithful, regal, and a true Empress in all ways; mired in politics and the machinations of mankind, but still concerned for those she ruled.

One thing I find interesting is her monument in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican in Rome. Her son Constantine built the first St. Peter’s on the present site, so there is ample reason to have her statue in the current edition of the church that was begun in 1506 and finished in 1626. The four pillars that support the huge dome have niches in them at the base. On the northwest pier or pillar is St. Helena, holding the True Cross, and apparently relics of parts of the cross and the nails brought to Rome by St. Helena are held at St. Peter’s in a jewelled case.

“Sancta Helena Augusta”

Not much more to say.


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