Chapel of Saint Helena: So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25)
Hours: April-September, 5am to 8pm
October-March, 5am to 7pm
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is an impressive basilica at the corner of Suq Khan e-Zeit and Christian Quarter Road and is also called the Church of the Resurrection. It is owned jointly by the Armenian, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Descending the winding staircase into the lower portions of the church, visitors get a view of a few of the chapels, each tended to by a different denomination, yet in close proximity to the others. The Prison of Christ, where Jesus supposedly was held in prison awaiting his trial and murder, is located on the end of the north aisle.
Taking a right at the Prison of Christ will lead to the ambulatory of the Crusader church originally on the site. There are small chapels along the outlying walls dedicated to different saints. There is a stairway between the last two chapels. Going down the steps will lead to Chapel of Saint Helena. It is owned by the Armenian Church, and is called Chapel of Saint Gregory by them. On the walls along the steps are many small crosses carved by medieval pilgrims.
The Chapel of Saint Helena has two apses and three aisles. The apse to the north is dedicated to the thief hung next to Jesus who repented of his sin. The apse to the south is dedicated to Saint Helena. Saint Helena was the mother of Constantine. The seat in the southeast corner of the Chapel of Saint Helena supposedly belonged to Helena herself. According to a story that originated around 351, Saint Helena sat on that seat as she searched for the True Cross.
Once Constantine declared Rome as a Christian state, Helena dressed in modest clothing and mingled with regular worshipers during church services. She devoted most of her later life to searching out Christian relics and is noted for finding the True Cross, which is the original cross thought to have been used for the crucifixion of Jesus. She traveled down to Egypt to build a church commemorating the Burning Bush mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. She also supposedly found the nails used to nail Jesus’ hands and feet and the tunic he was wrapped in at the time of his death.
The Chapel of Saint Helena is dedicated to Saint Helena of Constantinople, mother of Constantine I. Helena is regarded by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches as a saint and regarded for her piety. She married Constantius and had Constantine in February of 272. Constantius divorced Helena in 289 to marry Theodora, Maximian’s daughter. Constantine was appointed Augustus of the Roman Empire in 306. He appointed his mother as Augusta and gave her unlimited access to the treasuries. She used her wealth and influence to help the poor, release prisoners and assist the oppressed.
The Chapel of Saint Helena in the Holy Sepulchre Church is one of many dedicated to this integral Saint. It is modestly adorned, in commemoration of her modesty and simplicity. The seat in the Chapel of Saint Helena reminds viewers of the painstaking hours this devout woman spent searching for the treasures of the Christian faith.