St. Elen (Elen of the Hosts) (St. Helen of Caernarfon – English)
Everyone keeps asking me about my choice of saint for my confirmation name. I thought it might be easier if I wrote up a little bit about her since she is an unusual choice. With a person so far back in history, there are many things that are conflated and confused, especially with so many having the same names and much of the history and mythology being intertwined as one, not to mention that it was an oral history with bards and storytellers, and so what was remembered may be less than accurate to what actually happened, but some of Elen’s life is well documented through The Mabinogion (known as Elen Luyddog) and the writings of St. Gregory of Tours and Sulpicious Severus.
St. Elen is known as Elen of the Hosts or Saint Helen of Caernarfon.
She is a Welsh Catholic Saint and is often confused with Helena of Constantinople because of their similar names and the similar names of their sons, both of whom were named Constantine. Helena’s son was better known as Constantine the Great although Elen’s son was called Custennin Fawr, which is Welsh for Constantine the Great. This was not helpful. St. Helena of Constantinople’s son is the famous one.
It is also possible that the sons have been confused over the centuries and they did not both have the Great descriptor and that was added later. There are other sources that describe nearly every royal house in Britain traces its lineage back to Elen and her husband Macsen, 4th century Emperor of Rome.
Elen’s feast day is May 22.
It is said that through her association with St. Martin of Tours, she brought the monastic church to Wales with her sons, Custennin and Peblig (who is also a Welsh saint known as Publicus.)
Elen is also named on several Roman roads in Wales and is known to be the patron saint of British roadbuilders and the protector of travelers. Roman roads in Wales are known as Sarn (au) Elen or The Causeways of Elen and she is said to have commissioned the road themselves to be built, but it is more likely that the roads were named for her after her death as their existence is much older than she. There is recent discovery that there are even older roads in Ireland, showing that the Celts were proficient roadbuilders, so who know?
Initially, I was seeking out a Welsh saint because of my long spiritual connection to Wales and the Celtic peoples, but upon discovering St. Elen, I discovered that there were several other reasons why I connected to her.
First and foremost, Ellen was my mother’s middle name and it gives me a connection to her as I join the church. My first teacher, who taught me lessons of generosity and the importance of family.
Secondly, Elen is from Caernarfon, the town in which I stayed for three nights in 2009. It hadn’t been on my list of places to visit until a Welsh friend randomly suggested it that I should go there and see the castle.
Her daughter is said to have married Vortigern, the only source for their marriage being carved on the Eliseg Pillar which is very near Valle Crucis Abbey, another Welsh place I gravitated to.
Ellen is also one of my favorite television characters: mother, business owner, independent, smart, how could I go wrong?
As I mentioned earlier, St. Elen is also the patron/protector of travelers, and more than anything else I consider myself a traveler. It is always my choice for being and writing and seeing and I love that this saint has a connection to something I love so dearly despite the anxiety that accompanies it.
*sources are limited and all the ones I used are second hand sources. I tried to use only the information that was known in more than one source.*