In case you are in or going to Greece before June 15:

I have always had a great fondness and admiration for St. Helena and featured her in my book “A Holy Year in Rome,” when describing the basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem that was built over her home (starts on page 112). At the venerable age of 80 (when most people did not live that long!) she went to the Holy Land with her son, Emperor Constantine, and brought back to Rome some relics of the passion, now in that basilica.

The relics of Empress St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and relics of the True Cross left Italy for Greece on a pilgrimage that lasts until June 15, the first time they have left their home since the Crusades. St. Helena was responsible for her son promulgating the great Edict of Milan that granted freedom of worship to all citizens of the empire, and ended, for the time, the bloody persecution of Christians.  She is revered in both the Latin and Eastern Church.

An email from the chancellor of the Constantinian Order in the United States provided some of the details about this pilgrimage. St. Helena’s remains were escorted by military detachments from Rome to Athens.  She was welcomed in Greece with full military honors due a Head of State. The president of Greece and the archbishop of Athens were there to greet the relics.  Tens of thousands of Greeks lined the streets and waited for hours to pass by her relics to venerate them.


My guest this weekend in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider” is Dina Gorni, an archeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority with some fascinating stories and a wonderful discovery. Dina was in Rome for the opening several days ago of an exhibit at Rome’s Jewish Museum and the Vatican’s Charlemagne Wing called “The Menorah: Worship, History and Myth.”

Dina tells us about the exhibit, how it began and what it features, including one of the rarest works in archeology – that she discovered! – the celebrated Magdala Stone. The stone has been loaned to this exhibit on an exceptional basis by Israel.

I wrote about this on last Monday after I interviewed Dina, noting that the exhibit was a kind of world premiere as the Vatican, Rome’s Jewish community and the Israeli Antiquities Authority teamed up for the first-ever joint exhibit by their respective museums. The focus, as the title says, is the menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum described in the Jewish Torah and also depicted in both Jewish and Christian art over many centuries.

Dina relates how the Legionaries of Christ wanted to build a hotel for pilgrims on land in Magdala on the shores of Lake Tiberias but the IAA said that, since this was historic land, they’d want to do some excavations – and, as they say, the rest is history. The Magdala stone, in fact, depicts the oldest carved image of the Second Temple’s seven-branched menorah ever found. So tune in for sure!

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