- Detail, my portrait of Saint Helen, from All the Saints
Saint Helen is a fascinating character to consider.
I’ve written about her twice in my book, All the Saints of the City of the Angels
: once in connection with Santa Cruz Street, in San Pedro Bay; and again, in connection with the curiously named San Teala Court, in Woodland Hills.
As I wrote in the San Teala piece, she
“was Constantine’s mother, a pious woman with a penchant for organizing, and an eye for buried treasure. In the fourth century she bustled about the Holy Land, uncovering relics which had lain unnoticed for three hundred years. The cross where Christ died; the nails which had secured him; the notice which hung above his head; the crown of thorns that rung his brow – all these freely presented themselves to her, as if awaiting her arrival.”
And she, via her legend, is responsbile for the naming of both Santa Cruz Street and the island to which its name is directed, out beyond the harbor’s horizon.
The tale goes that, after millennia of living in relative harmony, the Chumash peoples of Limuw, a large island near present-day Santa Barbara, were visited by Spanish explorers from the empire to the south.
Accompanying the soldiers who came ashore was a Franciscan priest; All were welcomed by the islanders, who took them to their chieftan’s village of Xaxas, set in a great forest.
After their warm reception, and an exchange of gifts, the visitors headed back to their canoes, and from there to their ship anchored offshore.
Overnight the priest, Juan Gonzalez Vizcaino, discovered he had forgotten his cross-topped walking staff (no mention is made of whether he had imbibed any welcoming inebriants during the welcoming ceremonies).
Despairing of seeing this treasure again – and admittedly harboring suspicions that the natives had gained the cross through clever means – , the Spaniards awakened at first light to the cheerful sight of the men of Xaxas guiding their great tomol
towards the ship; and in the center of the tomol sat one of the Chumash, bearing the lost cross.
Like Saint Helen of old, some Limuw maiden had recovered the Friar’s lost cross.