Thursday, August 15, 2013

Letter From Croatia IV: Constantine’s Mother

Watercolor of stone relief by Hallie Cohen
It is rumored that Helena, the mother of Constantine, was born in the town of Skript on the Island of Brac. Constantine was, of course, a very influential personage in the history of early Christianity since he was a Roman Emperor under whom Christianity thrived. He was the Earl Warren of the Roman Empire, a liberal put in power by those who sought to perpetuate conservative values. The Edict of Milan was a liberal doctrine. A little chapel, at the end of a vineyard outside of the town of Stari Grad on the island of Hvar, which is a short boat ride from Brac, is constructed out of stone and wood and like many structures along the small roads of the Dalmatian Coast emanates from Roman times. A cross, a Latin inscription, a bas relief of a bear (possibly symbolizing Constantine himself) and then “ Sainta Elena,” a Croatian variation of Helena testify to Constantine’s legacy. This little stone sanctuary could also have been a storehouse for grapes and fruits. It partakes both of the pagan and the religious and its components are a mixture of the eternal and the changing, the material and the spiritual with seemingly fragile wood beams supporting a slate stone roof. Grapes and blackberries glisten in the light and you can stop and pick warm fresh figs off the trees. The water in the harbor area is crystal clear and on a sunny August afternoon you feel the urgency of nature in a direct way that characterized the early Christian’s relationship to God. 

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