Wednesday, April 30, 2008

St Elen or Saint Helena of Llanelen near Llanover Feast Day May 22

St Elen of Wales

Llanelen, Gwent

Today I thought I would focus on a lesser known Saint of Gwent particularly, but she has a dedication here. There are two possibilities. The chuch near Llanover in the village of Llanellen (South of Abergavenny) could have been named for the mother of the Emperor Constantine who legalised the Christian Church throughout the Roman World.

More likely is that there was some confusion with another Saint, a holy woman
(known in Welsh tradition as Elen Luyddog;who was a late 4th century founder of churches in Wales who is remembered as a saint. Traditionally she is said to have been a Romano-British princess and the wife of Macsen or Magnus Clemens Maximus, Emperor in Britain, Gaul and Spain, where he died seeking imperial recognition in 388AD.

A Wife and a Mother

Elen was mother of five, including a boy named Constantine, but she could not have been Helena of Constantinople , the mother of Constantine the Great with whom she has, in times past, been confused. who lived about sixty years earlier. She is Patron of Llanelen in Monmouthshire .This small Church lies off the main road from Pontypool just south of Abergavenny.

The Norman Church based on the original foundation was stripped out of its Catholic appearance suring the sixteenth century and very little of the original form of the church survives inside. There is a lovely stained glass window over an altar table and the original form of the chapel seems to have been left.

Elen is said to have introduced into Wales the early form of monasticism from the Catholic Church in Gaul. Saint Gregory of Tours and Sulpicius Severus records that Maximus Wledig and Elen met Saint Martin of Tours while they were in Gaul!These were really high saints of the Catholic Church. She had two sons, Cystennin (Constantine) and Peblig (Publicius. It is likely that the Church site was originally an old Welsh Monastic foundation.

She is also patron of Llanelan in West Gower near Swansea and of the church at Penisa'r-waun near Caernarfon, and may have lived in both or all three places as they form a sort of triangle in the whole of Wales.We are not exactly sure where she was born.

A Road Builder-Patron Saint of Road Builders

Elen's story is told in The Dream of Macsen Wledig, one of the tales associated with the Mabinogion.. She is remembered for having Macsen build roads across her country so that the soldiers could more easily defend it from attackers, thus earning her the name Elen Luyddog (Elen of the Hosts). Many other Roman roads in Wales bear her name (e.g. Llwybr Elen) and she is thus acknowledged as the patron saint of British roadbuilders[ and the protectoress of travellers.

How she and Macsen met-the Romance

Elen is discovered by Mascen in a dream. Her beauty is compared with that of the Sun: She is radiant and Queenly. When Macsen finds the vision of his dreams and when they meet,they embrace, and marry within a day.

As his Empress, she requested the land of three chief cities as her bride gift. and supervises the building of roads for defence from one major caer or Roman fort to the next, to assist in their protection. The Feast day of Elen of the Hosts is May 22nd, connecting her to Spring, around the time of Beltane.

St Helen of ConstantinopleFeast Day 18th August in Roman Calendar

It is possible this dedication was actually to St Helena of Constantinople and Elen is just the Welsh form of 'Helena'.However it is certain that the Welsh Elen was named after the great St Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, which suggests a Christian upbringing and Baptism

However the earlier St Helen came later to Christianity.Born around 250AD she married Constantius Chlorus, co-regent of the western Roman empire. Mother of Constantine the Great. Her husband put her aside for a second marriage with better political connections. On his death, her son ascended to the throne, brought her home, and treated her as royalty. She used her high position and wealth in the service of her Catholic faith and helped build churches throughout the empire.She is the patron saint of Archeologists

At the age of 80 she led a group to the Holy Land to search for the True Cross. She and her group unearthed three crosses in 326. At the suggestion of Saint Macarius of Jerusalem, she took them to a woman afflicted with an incurable disease, and had her touch each one. One of them immediately cured her, and it was pronounced the True Cross. She built a church on the spot where the cross was found, and sent pieces to Rome and Constantinople; the Feast of the Holy Cross on 14 September celebrates the event. Thus in art, she is usually depicted holding a wooden cross. She also found there the bones of St Sicarius and another child whose bodies had been preserved in Bethlehem and were victims of the massacre of the Innocents. These bones were later given to the Abbey in Brantome in Mediaeval times where they are preserved in a golden reliquary.

Haut de la Garenne
There has been no news today, but it is good that a group is to be set up to support former victims of the treatment in the home.Campaigners for victims of abuse in care are planning to visit Jersey to set up a group for former residents of Haut de la Garenne.

The UK Care Leavers Association campaigns for people who have been abused in care or foster homes, helps care leavers get access to their care records and pushes for better standards in care provision.

Chairman Will McMahon has approached former Health Minister Stuart Syvret to arrange a meeting with Islanders who were residents in the care home, which is the focus of a police inquiry into historic child abuse spanning decades.

Mr McMahon plans to visit the Island in the next couple of weeks to talk to abuse survivors and to set up a Jersey branch of the CLA.

I think we can only rejoice that such tremendous evil has come to light. The Catholic Church has reported increased instances of possession in this century, and the point where evil hardens the heart and makes these perpetrators blind and deaf against the tears and entreaties and begging for mercy of their child victimes, vulnerable and entrusted to them because they were already going through hard times. The daily prayer of the church , The Invitary psalm Psalm 94 says:

O that today you would listen to his voice
Harden not your hearts as at Meribah....
For forty years I was wearied of these people
and I said 'Their hearts are astry,
And these people do not know my ways.
Then I took an oath in my anger
"Never shall they enter my rest".

If ever there was evil and suffering perpetrated on the poor broken bodies of these children, in them we can see the poor broken body of Christ suffering for the sins of this world.The one image superimposed on the other. The great St Bernard of Clairvaux once said that evil enters the soul at the point where someone hardens or her heart and inflicts evil and cruelty and anger on the weak and vulnerable. May God bless them all, those who are with him and those who suffer on in this world and let justice prevail.

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