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September 14: Christian Jerusalem

September 13, 2016

Helena of Constantinople, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who adopted Christianity as the state religion of Rome, identified the cross on which, she said, Jesus was crucified, and the tomb from which he emerged in his conquest of death, on this date in 326 CE. Revered as a saint in both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, Helena, during a visit from 326-328 CE, single-handedly turned Jerusalem into as much a Christian holy site as it was Jewish and, in later centuries, Muslim. She “showed the stump of the tree which provided the wood for Jesus’ cross,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library. “. . . She indicated the spot where the miracle of fish and bread took place. She pointed to the place where Jesus stood when he gave his Sermon on the Mount. She marked where Mary was told that she would give birth to Jesus (an event called the Annunciation). She indicated which room was Joseph’s carpentry shop. She showed the spot where Jesus was born, the field where the shepherds saw the star, inn where the Good Samaritan took care of the beaten man. . . . She had a magnificent church built on the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried (the first of the Holy Sepulchre churches). She indicated where Mary went into an eternal sleep. She pointed to where Judas kissed Jesus thus identifying him to the Romans . . .”

“To be sure, some of the sites which Helena pointed out were already considered holy shrines commemorating specific events in Jesus’ life. Helena’s guided tour lent a great deal of legitimacy to the original traditions; no one was arguing with the mother of the emperor of Rome.” --Jewish Virtual Library