Saint Helen was the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine. It was Constantine who legalised Christianity in 313 AD. Helen was a convert to Christianity late in life and she used her influence to build churches and spread the faith throughout the Roman Empire.
When Helen was in her 80s, she had a dream about finding the real cross of Christ in Jerusalem. She travelled there with a small group of people, and the search began.
By talking to local Christians and Jews, she discovered that the place they believed Jesus was crucified was buried under the Temple of Venus.
Helen had the temple demolished in order to excavate the ground below. A tomb, three crosses, a board with Pilate’s inscription and nails were found.
To discover if one of the crosses was the actual cross of Christ, a bishop called St Macarius took a corpse and touched each of the crosses to the body. Being touched by one of the crosses caused the dead man to come back to life.
The same test was also carried out with a woman with an incurable illness. The woman was instantly healed when she was touched by the same cross.
St Helen then sent pieces of the cross to Rome and Constantinople and had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the site of the crucifixion.
In 614 AD, when Syria and Palestine were invaded by the Persians, the cross was taken from Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople was the one to restore it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 630 AD - amazingly on 14 September.
The feast day is therefore celebrated as the day the church was dedicated and the day the cross was restored to Jerusalem years later.
On the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross in 2013, Pope Francis devoted his homily to the mystery of the Cross.
“Today we look upon the Cross, the story of mankind and the story of God. We look upon this Cross, where you can try that honey of aloe, that bitter honey, that bitter sweetness of the sacrifice of Jesus,” said Pope Francis to the congregation at Domus Sancta Marta.
Despite the fact that humanity sinned, God chose to “take up the story” of mankind, “to journey with us.”
According to the Genesis narrative, the first man and woman allowed sin into the world by eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The incarnation of the Son of God brought salvation through a different kind of tree: the wood of the Cross.
“This tree of the Cross saves us, all of us, from the consequences of that other tree, where self-sufficiency, arrogance, the pride of us wanting to know all things according to our own mentality, according to our own criteria, and also according to that presumption of being and becoming the only judges of the world," Pope Francis explained.
"This is the story of mankind: from one tree to the other.”
The only possible explanation for our salvation is Divine love, said the Pope.