The Art Archive/Dagli Orti

Constantine’s mother Helena (with crown) directs excavations on the Rock of Golgotha, in this 1246 fresco from the church of Santi Quattro Coronati, in Rome. According to long-standing tradition, Helena traveled from Rome to Jerusalem in search of the true cross. Digging at Golgotha, she found not one but three crosses (as shown here)—those of Jesus and the two thieves crucified beside him. She couldn’t tell which belonged to Jesus, however, until she touched it to a sick man (seated in the foreground), and he was miraculously healed. In the accompanying article, author Jan Willem Drijvers traces the legend of the true cross back to the late fourth century—but not back to Helena.