Today part two of the story of The Thirteenth Apostle (and his mum) from Paul Andruss.
As with any legend, there is usually some variations on the origins and plenty of embellishments by later historians, that need to be resolved. Paul takes on the task and unravels the stories to reveal the probable truth behind Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor.. and his mother Helena.
The Thirteenth Apostle – Constantine the Great Part Two – by Paul Andruss.
Statue of Constantine the Great at York (source: schoolworkhelper)
If Constantine’s attitude to religion was ambiguous, the same could not be said for his choice of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. Rome had long been abandoned by the emperors. It was too out of the way for armies constantly on the move. Plus emperors were usually upstarts. The ancient snobbish Roman nobility had a far stronger claim. Better to leave them squabbling among themselves as they would over the Papacy all through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Byzantium was a perfect choice. Already a thousand years old it was in the heart of Rome’s richest provinces and close to the Rome’s traditional enemy, the Persian Empire. It straddled the continents of Europe and Asia and was an easily defensible peninsula with a deep natural harbour controlling trade between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Although we think of this period as the beginning of the Byzantine Empire, its inhabitants always referred to themselves as Romanoi.
Constantine set about making it the glory of the world, the new Rome and the Mother of Cities. Its modern name Istanbul originated from a Medieval Greek phrase meaning ‘in THE CITY’, for as the largest metropolis in the classical world for a millennium it needed no other name.
Leaving nothing to chance Constantine consulted pagan soothsayers to determine an auspicious day to mark out his new city with the tip of his spear. The limit of the city walls enclosed an area more than five times greater than the existing town of Byzantium. With no doubt his entourage paling, Constantine announced he wanted it complete for his silver jubilee, a year and a half hence.
At the heart of the city was the Milion, the milestone from which distances all over the empire were measured. Within the surrounding structure, of four triumphal arches supporting a cupola, he placed the true cross recently sent from Jerusalem. To the east rose his first great church, still standing today, dedicated to the Holy Peace of God or the Hagia Eirene (St Irene). Ironic really considering the Empress Irene, some four centuries later blinded, imprisoned and then murdered her son to retain power.
Hippodrome of Constantinople 1727 showing the Blue Mosque, Serpent Column & Obelisk of Theodosius (Aubry de la Mottraye. Source: Wikipedia)
From the Egyptian holy city of Heliopolis came a 100 foot high porphyry column. It stood on a twenty foot high marble base that held the pot of oil Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus, the baskets from the miracle of loaves and fishes, the hatchet Noah used to build the ark, and the Palladium, an ancient wooden statue of Athena that Aeneas had brought from the burning ruins of Troy: it was the most sacred object in ancient Rome. Topping this remarkable confection stood a statue of Constantine dressed as Sol Invictus.
Constantine Column (1912) reconstructed with original sketch (Photos in Public domain Wikipedia- Andruss)
In 337 AD, Constantine died after a reign of 31 years. His was the longest reign since the original Emperor Augustus three centuries before. He was placed in a gold coffin draped in purple and lay in state in his palace for three and a half months.
Constantine had planned his funeral down to the last detail. He was carried in procession around his beloved city; his funeral cortege headed by his son and heir with an army in full battle dress. Then came the gold coffin flanked by spearmen and infantry and after followed by the court and citizens in deepest mourning.
Constantine was laid to rest in his gorgeous new Church of the Holy Apostles. The interior was richly inlaid with coloured marble, while the outside was clad in polished brass and adorned with gold, to reflect the sun and dazzle the beholder. The emperor was put in a huge ornate tomb in the centre flanked on each side by 6 sarcophagi each containing the relics of one of Christ’s apostles, scoured from the four corners of the earth.
In life Constantine revelled in the title he had awarded himself ‘Equal of the Apostles’, in death the position and grandeur of this tomb seemed to suggest that rather than an equal, he was, in fact, their superior.
Two hundred years later Constantine’s Church of the Holy Apostles was entirely remodelled by the Emperor Justinian. It stood until it was looted by crusaders in the fourth Crusade. Today not a trace remains of Constantine’s tomb or the surrounding sarcophagi of the apostles.
Sic transit Gloria mundi. (So passes worldly glory.)
Colossus of Constantine fragments in the Courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini, (source: LegionXXIV)
About Paul Andruss