Elen I,

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1 Elen Luyddog, Helen [W elen, nymph, angel (?); luyddog, of the hosts]. British (Welsh) virgin princess dreamed of by Macsen Wledig in Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig [The Dream of Macsen Wledig]. The probably historical figure Macsen (Magnus Maximus, d. ad 388) is thought to have grown impatient with imperial rule in 4th-century Britain and so to have taken an army to conquer Rome itself. Once established as emperor, Macsen dreamed of the beautiful Elen he had left behind. He then returned to Britain, found Elen to be a virgin, and married her; he also established three castles to fortify the country. Elen's two brothers, Cynan and Gadeon, then helped Macsen to reconquer Rome. Recent scholarship deflates the dream somewhat. Elen was also historical, based on Elen the daughter of Eudaf, a British chieftain who held Segontium [Caernarvon]; she was already wife to the historical Magnus Maximus and travelled with him to the Continent. But the recent discovery of evidence of a British legion from Segontium as far away as the Balkans in ad 429 gives some plausibility to the larger scenario.

Elen (1) is often confused with Elen (2), derived from St Helen, the mother of Constantine, in Welsh lore. One or the other is often thought to have given initiative to road-building, largely because surviving sections of a Roman road were called Sarn Helen. The name is more likely derived from elin [W, elbow, angle] as the roads are circuitous unlike normally straight Roman roads, or simply Y Lleng [W, The Legion]. The character of Elen does appear to have contributed to the persona of Elaine of Arthurian tradition. See AHES, a Breton goddess of roads. See also Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydain, rev. edn. (Cardiff, 1978), 341ff.; 550ff.

2 2, Helen. Historical saint (4th cent.), mother of Emperor Constantine, who was given a Welsh provenance through pious medieval imagination although no record implies she ever came near Britain. According to her Welsh pedigree she was the daughter of Coel Hen (the eponymous ‘King’ Cole of Colchester); in variant texts her father is Eudaf. She was thought to have discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem. Despite her being a generation too old to be identified with Elen (1) (Luyddog), medieval hagiographers wilfully confused the two. More than 100 Welsh churches were named in her honour. See Charles Knightly, Folk Heroes of Britain (London, 1982).

Subjects: Religion.

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