Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 38


[Pg 56]

She Comes to Judæa

Queen Elene had a prosperous voyage, and, after touching at the land of the Greeks, reached in due time the country of Judæa, and so, with good hope came to Jerusalem. There, in the emperor’s name, she summoned to an assembly all the oldest and wisest Jews, a congregation of a thousand venerable rabbis, learned in all the books of the Law and the Prophets and proud that they were the Chosen People in a world of heathens, aliens from the True God. These she addressed at first with a blending of flattery and reproach—flattery for the Chosen People, reproach for their perversity of wickedness—and, finally, peremptorily demanded an answer to any question she might ask of them. The Jews withdrew and deliberated sadly whether they durst refuse the request of so mighty a person as the emperor’s mother, and, deciding that they durst not, returned to the hall where Elene sat in splendour on her throne and announced their readiness to reply to all her questions. Elene, however, bade them first lessen their numbers. They chose five hundred to reply for them, and on these she poured such bitter reproaches that they at last exclaimed:

“Lady, we learnt of yore laws of the Hebrew folk
Which all our fathers learnt from the true ark of God.
Lady, we know not now why thou thus blamest us;
How has the Jewish race done grievous wrong to thee?”


She Cross-questions the Rabbis

Elene only replied: “Go ye away, and choose out from among these five hundred those whose wisdom is great enough to show them without delay the answer to all things I require”; and again they left her presence. When they were alone, one of them, named Judas, [Pg 57] said “I know what this queen requires: she will demand to know from us where the Cross is concealed on which the Lord of the Christians was crucified; but if we tell this secret I know well that the Jews will cease to bear rule on the earth, and our holy scriptures will be forgotten. For my grandfather Zacchæus, as he lay dying, bade me confess the truth if ever man should inquire concerning the Holy Tree; and when I asked how our nation had failed to recognise the Holy and Just One, he told me that he had always withdrawn himself from the evil deeds of his generation, and their leaders had been blinded by their own unrighteousness, and had slain the Lord of Glory. And he ended:

“‘Thus I and my father secretly held the Faith.
Now warn I thee, my son, speak not thou mockingly
Of the true Son of God reigning in glory:
For whom my Stephen died, and the Apostle Paul.’


“Now,” said Judas, “since things are so, decide ye what we shall reveal, or what conceal, if this queen asks us.”

One Appointed to Answer her

The other elders replied: “Do what seems to thee best, since thou alone knowest this. Never have we heard of these strange secrets. Do thou according to thy great wisdom.”

While they still deliberated came the heralds with silver trumpets, which they blew, proclaiming aloud:

“The mighty Queen calls you, O men, to the Council,
That she may hear from you of your decision.
Great is the need ye have of all your wisdom.”


Slowly and reluctantly the Jewish rabbis returned to the council-chamber, and listened to Elene as she [Pg 58] plied them with questions about the ancient prophecies and the death of Christ; but to all her inquiries they professed entire ignorance, until, in her wrath, the queen threatened them with death by fire. Then they led forward Judas, saying: “He can reveal the mysteries of Fate, for he is of noble race, the son of a prophet. He will tell thee truth, O Queen, as thy soul loveth.” Thus Elene let the other Jews go in peace, and took Judas for a hostage.

She Threatens him

Now Elene greeted Judas and said:

“Lo, thou perverse one, two things lie before thee,
Or death or life for thee: choose which thou wilt.”


Judas replied to her, since he could not escape:

“If the starved wanderer lost on the barren moors
Sees both a stone and bread, easily in his reach,
Which, O Queen, thinkest thou he will reject?”


Thereupon Elene said: “If thou wouldst dwell in heaven with the angels, reveal to me where the True Cross lies hidden.” Now Judas was very sad, for his choice lay between death and the revealing of the fateful secret, but he still tried to evade giving an answer, protesting that too long a time had passed for the secret to be known. Elene retorted that the Trojan War was a still more ancient story, and yet was still well known; but Judas replied that men are bound to remember the valiant deeds of nations; he himself had never even heard the story of which she spoke. This obstinacy angered the queen greatly, and she demanded to be taken at once to the hill of Calvary, that she might [Pg 59] purify it, for the sake of Him who died there; but Judas only repeated:

“I know not the place, nor aught of that field.”


Queen Elene was yet more enraged by his stubborn denials, and determined to obtain by force an answer to her questions. Calling her servants, she bade them thrust Judas into a deep dry cistern, where he lay, starving, bound hand and foot, for seven nights and days. On the seventh day his stubborn spirit yielded, and Judas lifted up his voice and called aloud, saying:

“Now I beseech you all by the great God of heaven
That you will lift me up out of this misery.
I will tell all I know of that True Holy Cross,
Now I no longer can hide it for heavy pain.
Hunger has daunted me through all these dreary days.
Foolish was I of yore; late I confess it.”


He Guides her to Calvary

The message was brought to Elene where she waited to hear tidings, and she bade her servants lift the weakened Judas from the dark pit; then they led him, half dead with hunger, out of the city to the hill of Calvary. There Judas prayed to the God whom he now feared and worshipped for a sign, some token to guide them in their search for the Holy Cross. As he prayed a sweet-smelling vapour, curling upwards like the incense-wreaths around the altar, rose to the skies from the summit of the hill. The sign was manifest to all, and Judas gave thanks to God for His great mercy; then, bidding the wondering soldiers help him, he began to dig. By this time all men knew what they sought, and each wished to uncover the holy relic, so that all dug with great zeal, until, under twenty feet of earth, [Pg 60] they uncovered three crosses, so well preserved that they lay in the earth just as the Jews had hidden them.