IMC 2004: Sessions

Session 803: The Legend and Cult of St Helena, II

Tuesday 13 July 2004, 16.30-18.00

Organisers:Hans A. Pohlsander, Department of Classics & Religious Studies, State University of New York, Albany
Sherry L. Reames, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Moderator/Chair:Hans A. Pohlsander, Department of Classics & Religious Studies, State University of New York, Albany
Paper 803-aAppropriating a Female Saint: St Helens in the Old English Invention Homily
(Language: English)
Karin E. Olsen, Afdeling Engelse Taal en Cultuur, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Index terms: Hagiography
Paper 803-cSt Helena in Colchester: The Rhetoric of Association
(Language: English)
Antonina Harbus, Department of English, University of Sydney
Index terms: Hagiography

Abstract Paper -a:
When compared with the saintly empress in the Acta Cyriaci, it becomes immediately evident that St Helena in Oxford Bodleian MS Auctarium F.4.32 has undergone a cultural transformation. Although her role as pious and aggressive mother of Constantine the Great has not significantly been altered in the homily, she does not possess the intellectual abilities or political influence of her predecessor in the Latin source. The changes seem to be culturally motivated, as Cynewulf shows similar reservations about a learned and politically active empress in his poem Elene, the only other significant Old English account of St Helena’s achievements. At the same time, however, the two portraits of the empress in the two Old English versions are far from identical. In my paper, I focus on the narrative techniques responsible for the creation of the portrait in the homily, paying particular attention to a) genre-related factors and b) possible cultural influences on this mid-eleventh-century composition.

Abstract Paper -b:
As Helena is frequently celebrated in legend as the discoverer of the Holy Cross, so is she associated with the discovery of the Holy
Nails. However, these two accomplishments are frequently presented as distinct events. In the Judas Cyriacus tradition, for example, the discovery of the Cross is linked to the conversion of Judas, but the discovery of the nails is made only after Judas has been baptized and elected bishop. In Cynewulf’s Elene, it is the discovery of the nails rather than the cross that is explicitly associated with the spiritual conversions both of Elene and of the people of Jerusalem. Additionally, the nails play a role of particular significance as they are incorporated into Constantine’s bridle and sometimes crown as well, serving as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah and a guarantor of Constantine’s political authority. This fusion of political and spiritual meaning will later be echoed in the material artifact of the Lombard Iron Crown, an object (according to legend) worn by Charlemagne that similarly incorporates a Holy Nail into its design. In this paper I will explore the narrative treatment and significance of the discovery of the Holy Nails in the Helena legends. I will also look at the ways in which the Helena tradition informs and reflects the veneration of Holy Nail relics in the Middle Ages.

Abstract Paper -c:
From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Evelyn Waugh, St Helena has been associated in legend with the British town of Colchester. This paper will explore the reasons for the rise and persistence of this strand of the legend in both secular and religious contexts. It will treat in particular the town’s own claims to being the birthplace of St Helena, as articulated in the Colchester Chronicle and retained in the
insignia and decorative artefacts of the town’s public institutions.
This paper will trace the career of interest in St Helena in Colchester, especially as it relates to the cycle of legends based on the idea that she was more generally of British nationality. Documentary evidence linking St Helena to Colchester will be examined, as well as the rhetorical exploitation of this alleged link in the Middle Ages and beyond. By focusing on the appropriation of St Helena by her legendary birthplace, this paper will examine the powerful symbolic role of a Colcestrian Princess Helena as the mother of the Emperor Constantine and finder of the True Cross, a role which is retained to the present day in this town.

Abstract Paper -d:
In the absis of the crypt of the Holy Cross Church in Andria (Apulia) four mural paintings are preserved with the story of Helena finding the True Cross: The arrival of Helena, Judas Cyriacus in the dry well1, the Discovery and the Testing of the cross, and finally the veneration of the erected cross. Little attention has been paid to this early 15th-century cycle (only: B. MOLAJOLI, La crypta di
S. Croce in Andria, in Atti e memoria della società Magna Grecia. Bizantina-Medievale, 1, 1934, p. 25- 35, p. 32, fig. 2.)
In this paper I want to examine: (1) The iconographical tradition of the murals in the context of the diffusion of the theme in the
Italo-Byzantine South of Italy. In fact, this research can be an important counterpart for the always considered Tuscan Monopoly of the theme during the 15th century (the so-called Firenze-Volterra, -Empoli-Arezzo cluster). (2) The appearance of the theme in connection with possible influences and impulses from the Balkan/Slavic area. These exchanges of the Helena-material between East and West during the later Middle Ages are underestimated in the research. (3) Finally, I will contextualise the Helena cycle in the context of the so-called cave-churches of Andria, which are related to the monastic-hermit culture in Apulia.