Constantine and Helena:
Judea Under Christian Rule
The Council of Nicea in 325 CE marked a bad day for
the Jews under Roman rule.
Constantine, emperor and honorary bishop (though there's some disagreement
as to whether he ever actually became a Christian), declared Christianity
to be the official religion of Rome. He viewed the Jews as the false
Israel which had refused to accept Jesus as the Savior. Laws were made
Despite these troubles and tensions the Jews of Judea
under Constantine's rule continued to function fairly normally. The
Judean academies of Tiberias,
and Lydda continued to attract students. Recent archaeological digs
in Israel have uncovered remarkable mosaic floors at Tzippori indicating
that the city was quite wealthy during this time period. The interpretations
and discussions based on the Mishnah
and the Tosefta continued to be developed.
One of the most important accomplishments of Emperor Constantine was
to have had a mother named Helena. Helena definitely became a Christian.
She was so turned on by the faith that she traveled to Judea to make
a pilgrimage to all the sites where the stories of Jesus took place.
Until that time, no one had really concentrated on
the sites in Judea where Jesus
had presumably walked and worked. Helena not only toured the Christian
sites but she also named them.
Although Christians knew approximately the path taken
by Jesus on his way to the cross (the Via
Dolorosa, the Way of Pain), they didn't know exactly where each
specific event (called stations) of that walk took place. Helena showed
them, and the precise spots which she indicated became accepted by Christian
tradition. It is possible that she not only showed them where the known
events took place; she may have introduced some new events as well,
thus creating some of the fourteen Stations of the Cross.
Helena showed the stump of the tree which provided the wood for Jesus'
cross. She found the wood itself from the cross upon which Jesus died.
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. She spotted the room where Jesus turned water into wine
at Kafr Kana. She identified the spot where Jesus was baptized by John
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.
Thanks to Constantine's mother, the Christian tradition
today has as many holy sites and shrines in Israel as do the Jews and
Muslims. Judea became the
Holy Land for Christians, and thousands made pilgrimages to the holy
sites. Instead of being just a small outlying province of the Empire,
Judea became a Christian center.