Earlier I mentioned Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem who writing about 350 mentioned that wood from the Cross was in Jerusalem.
It was Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who composed an oration De Obitu Theodosii in 395 who seems to make the first mention of Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, as the finder of the cross. It is Helena who goes to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to look for the lignum crucis.(http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/02m/0339-0397, Ambrosius,_De_Obitu_Theodosii_Oratio,_MLT.pdf) It was Helen that gave the nails of the crucifixion to her son to be used to make a bit, and another to be added to a diadem.
Now, it is hard to know if Rufinus writing about 6 or so years later knew about Ambrose's funeral oration when he added the story of Helen and the Cross to Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, or if both men were using the same unknown source for this addition to the story of finding the True Cross. In any case, I realized that I had given Rufinus only a passing mention, and there is little doubt that his works were known in Anglo-Saxon England.
Rufinus of Aquileia, also called Tyrannius Rufinus, was born about 344 in the city of Julia Concordia at the head of the Adriatic Sea. In his mid-20s, he traveled to Alexandria and the eastern Mediterranean to study. During this time he acquired a patroness, Melania, a wealthy Christian widow from Rome. She eventually moved to Palestine, and with Rufinus, founded a monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Rufinus moved between Jerusalem, Rome, Aquileia, and Sicily. He studied Christian theology in Greek. He was a contemporary of Jerome. He is not as well known as Jerome, lacking Jerome's writing style. Both of them introduced to the western Latin speaking Church, the great trove of Greek learning, that was otherwise unknown in an area where Greek was virtually unknown. Rufinus left Rome because of the incursions of the Goths and died in Sicily in 411. In England, at least, translations by Rufinus were attributed to Jerome. (See Aelfric’s homily for the Exaltation of the Cross, for example. More on this later.)
Rufinus did very little original writing. He was primarily a translator, who thought nothing of editing and revising the material he was translating. Rufinus began translating Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History in 401 at the request of Bishop Chromatius of Aquileia. The translation was often quite free, more a paraphrase of Eusebius' work. He shortened the original text quite freely. (Rufinus of Aquilea (Author), Philip R. Amidon, tr. and ed. The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia: Books 10 and 11(1997) Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.vii-xiii, 16-8),
Rufinus wrote a simple version of Helena's finding of the crosses.Sec. 10.7. Helena, the emperor Constantine's mother, is described as "matchless in faith, devotion, and singular generosity." (p.16) She is instructed by a vision to travel to Jerusalem to the site of the Crucifixion, now covered by a temple to Venus. She orders the removal of all that is "profane and defiled." When all the rubble is removed, three crosses are discovered "jumbled together." Not being able to identify the true cross even after the inscription was found, it is Bishop Macarius who suggests that God will show them the true cross by healing a woman of high station who was near death. Sec 10.8 continues with the prayer of Bishop Macarius. He then touches the woman with the first two pieces of wood and she remains very ill. When he touches her with the three cross, she was immediately healed. She opened he eyes, got up, and ran about the house glorifying the Lord. (p.17) Helena then presented some of the wood to her son. The rest she put into silver reliquaries and left in Jerusalem. The nails of the crucifixion Helena also gave to her son. Some went into a bridle and the remainder were placed in a battle helmet. The helmet/diadem part of the story is repeated in Cassiodorus' Historia Ecclesiastica Tripartita.
Copies of the Rufinus' translation of Eusebius' Ecclesiatica Historia in England before 1100 (From Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts)
- Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Library 187. 11th or 12th century, prob. made at Christ Church, Canterbury.
- Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Library 192. mid 10th century, Landevannec (Brittainy). In England at Canterbury by mid 10th century at Christ Church or St. Augustine's.(excerpt only of Historia)
- Cambridge, Pembroke College 108. Excerpts from Book 10, sec. 1-14 (that includes the finding of the Cross) mid 9th century France. In England at Bury St. Edmunds.
- Worcester Cathedral Library, Q.28. mid 9th century France. In England by mid 10th or 11th century at Canterbury. Provenance Worcester.
- Fragment now at Vienna Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, series nova 3644. Made probably in north England in 8th century.
- Almost certainly other copies were known in Anglo-Saxon England.