Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 40

“Lo we have heard of this from all the holy books,
That there were with him two in His deep anguish.
They hung in death by Him; He was Himself the third.
Heaven was all darkened o’er at that dread moment.
Say, if thou rightly canst, which of these crosses
Is that blest Tree of Fate which bore the Heaven’s King.”


The Queen’s dilemma

A Miracle to Reveal our Saviour’s Cross

Judas, however, suggested that the crosses should be carried to the midst of the city, and that they should pray for another miracle to reveal the truth. This was done at dawn, and the triumphant band of Christians raised hymns of prayer and praise until the ninth hour; then came a mighty crowd bearing a young man lifeless on his bier. At Judas’s command they laid down the bier, and he, praying to God, solemnly raised in turn each of the crosses and held it above the dead man’s head. Lifeless still he lay as Judas raised the first two, but when he held above the corpse the third, the True Cross, the dead man arose instantly, body and soul reunited, one in praising God, and the whole multitude broke out into shouts of thanksgiving to the [Pg 61] Lord of Hosts, and the sacred relic was restored to the loving care of the queen.

The Nails Sought for

Nevertheless Elene’s longing was still unsatisfied. She called Judas (whose new name in baptism was Cyriacus) and begged him to fulfil her desires, and to pray to God that she might find the nails which had pierced the Lord of Life, where they lay hidden from men in the ground of Calvary. Leading her out of the town, Cyriacus again prayed on Mount Calvary that God would send forth a token and reveal the secret. As he prayed there came from heaven a leaping flame, brighter than the sun, which touched the surface of the ground here and there, and kindled in each place a tiny star. When they dug at the spots where the stars shone they found each nail shining visibly and casting a radiance of its own in the dark earth. So Elene had obtained her heart’s desire, and had now the True Cross and the Holy Nails.

Good News Brought to Constantine

Word of his mother’s success was sent to the Emperor Constantine, and he was asked what should be done with these glorious relics. He bade Elene build in Jerusalem a glorious church, and make therein a beautiful shrine of silver, where the Holy Cross should be guarded for all generations by priests who should watch it day and night. This was done, but the nails were still Elene’s possession, and she was at a loss how to preserve these holy relics, when the devout Cyriacus, now ordained Bishop of Jerusalem, went to her and said: “O lady and queen, take these precious nails for thy son the emperor. Make with them rings for his horse’s bridle. Victory shall ever go with them; they [Pg 62] shall be called Holy to God, and he shall be called blessed whom that horse bears.” The advice pleased the queen, and she had wrought a glorious bridle, adorned with the Holy Nails, and sent it to her son. Constantine received it with all reverence, and ordained that April 24, the day of the miracle of revelation, should henceforth be kept in honour as “Holy Cross Day.” Thus were the Emperor’s zeal and the royal mother’s devotion rewarded, and Christendom was enriched by some of its most precious treasures, the True Cross and the Holy Nails.

[Pg 63]


Youth of Constantine

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT was the eldest son of the Roman Emperor Constantius and the British Princess Helena, or Elena, and was brought up as a devout worshipper of the many gods of Rome. The lad grew up strong and handsome, of a tall and majestic figure, skilled in all warlike exercises, and, as he fought in the civil wars between the various Roman emperors, he showed himself a bold and prudent general in battle, a friendly and popular leader in time of peace. The popularity of the youthful Constantine was dangerous to him, and he needed, and showed, great skill in evading the deadly jealousy of the old Emperor Diocletian, and the hatred of his father’s rival, Galerius. At last, however, his position became so dangerous that Constantius felt his son’s life was no longer safe, and earnestly begged him to visit his native land of Britain, where Constantius had just been proclaimed emperor and had defeated the wild Caledonians. The excuse given was that Constantius was in bad health and needed his son; but not until the young man was actually in Britain would his anxious father avow that he feared for his son’s life.

Acclaimed Emperor

When the half-British Constantius died, Constantine, who was the favourite of the Roman soldiery of the west, was at once acclaimed as emperor by his devoted troops. He professed unwillingness to accept the honour, and it is said that he even tried in vain to escape on horseback from the affectionate solicitations of his soldiers. Seeing the uselessness of further protest, [Pg 64] Constantine accepted the imperial title, and wrote to Galerius claiming the throne and justifying his acceptance of the unsought dignity thrust upon him. Galerius acquiesced in the inevitable, and granted Constantine the inferior title of “Cæsar,” with rule over Western Europe, and the wise prince was content to wait until favouring circumstances should destroy his rivals and give him that sole sway over the Roman Empire for which he was so well fitted. He had now reached the age of thirty, had fought valiantly in the wars in Egypt and Persia, and had risen by merit to the rank of tribune. His marriage with Fausta, the daughter of the Emperor Maximian, and his elevation to the rank of Augustus brought him nearer to the attainment of his ambition; and at length the defeat and death of his rivals placed him at the head of the world-wide empire of Rome. It is to some period previous to Constantine’s elevation to the supreme authority that we must refer the following story, told by Gower in his “Confessio Amantis” as an example of that true charity which is the mother of pity, and makes a man’s heart so tender that,

“Though he might himself relieve,
Yet he would not another grieve,”

but in order to give pleasure to others would bear his own trouble alone.