St. Helena is often depicted holding a cross because Christians around the world believe that she was the first person who found the cross that killed Jesus in Jerusalem also known as True Cross. This fascinating story begins with the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Emperor Constantine, who sent his mother Saint Helena (c. 246-330 CE) to find Jesus relics in the Holy Land.
When Helena came to Jerusalem, she found out that Roman Emperor Hadrian built a pagan temple over Jesus's tomb, which was a grave insult to the new religion. Helena ordered to tear down this pagan temple and dig beneath it to find relics related to Jesus. Eventually, her workers did found three different crosses -- a discovery directly relating to the Gospels that tell us that Jesus was crucified at the same time as two criminals. According to the historian Rufinus (c. 340-410), Helena brought an ill woman to the site in order to find out which cross was Jesus'. When the dying woman touched two crosses, nothing happened. But when she touched the last one, she magically recovered. The true cross of Jesus had been found.
Once Helena brought the piece of the cross to Europe, the stories about other pieces of cross immediately popped up. As John Calvin, a famous protestant reformer, said: "... if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it." After that, nobody heard about the True Cross again until French architect Charles Rohault de Fleury listed and described all known fragments of the Jesus’ cross. He concluded that it weighed 165 pounds, was three or four meters high and had a 2 meters wide cross beam. He determined that even all those pieces combined don’t amount to a third of the True Cross. Based on the available fragments, he also concluded the cross on which Jesus dies was made of pine wood. All the cross particles were carefully examined years after, and it appeared that some of them were made of olive wood. So was the cross of Jesus made of olive wood or pine? And how could fragments of a tree survive millennia? All these unsolved mysteries still puzzle the world.
Today, there are even more fragments of the “true cross” that can be found anywhere: you can see one on Mount Athos, in Rome, in Brussels, in Venice, or even in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, where a fragment of the true cross is believed to be a part of a family chapel. People who want to have their own piece of the cross can even buy them online nowadays – eBay, along with some other online retailers, offers a few of them with original wax seals and documents proving their authenticity.
The cross on which Jesus had dies is a powerful symbol and identifier for the faith of more than two billion people. The last time the old story about the Jesus relicts appeared in press again was July of 2013, when Turkish archaeologists discovered a stone chest in a 1,350-year-old church and claimed that it contains a real piece of Jesus' cross. A historian and archeologist Gülgün Köroğlu proudly announced that her team found a holy thing in an ancient chest – a piece of Jesus’ cross. This story came to an end also pretty quickly. After a while, Köroğlu said that the box that appeared to contain holy objects, particularly a piece of the True Cross, was now mysteriously empty.