Blessed Helen was a member of the Valentini family of Udine, Italy, and was given in marriage at the age of fifteen to a knight named Antonio dei Cavalcanti. During twenty-five years of happy wedded life, Bl. Helen appears to have led a normal existence as the mother of a large family of children.
The unexpected death of her husband came as a great shock to Bl. Helen. Realizing that the grief and difficulties of widowhood lay ahead of her and that her future would be devoted to God alone, she cut off her beautiful hair and laid it on her husband’s bier, together with her jewelled headdress. “For love of you alone have I worn these,” she said. “Take them down into the earth with you.”
As the result of conferences given by the learned theologian Angelo of St.Severino, Bl. Helen decided to become a tertiary of his order, the Hermits of St.Augustine. From that moment on she devoted herself to works of charity, to prayer, and to mortification. Her costly dresses were made into vestments, while her jewels were sold for the benefit of the poor for whom she labored. One of her many mortifications consisted in abstaining from meat, eggs, and milk and living almost entirely on roots, bread, and water.
With the consent of her director, Bl. Helen took a vow of perpetual silence, which she observed all year ’round except on Christmas night. It is clear, however, that this obligation did not extend to speaking to the members of her household, which included servants and her sister Perfecta. It is from them that details of her holy life are derived.
Bl. Helen was subject to many trials, especially in that she was terrified by loud noises and suffered temptations to commit suicide. She was apparently tormented by the devil, since she was once discovered lying bruised upon the ground and was twice found with a broken leg. Once as she was crossing a bridge on her way to church, Bl. Helen was thrown into the river. She scrambled out and attended Holy Mass as usual, despite her dripping clothes.
Helen was one of many who were cured during a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter Parenzo at Orvieto.
In later years, she left the house only to attend the church of St. Lucy. There she spent many hours in prayer. Although she was tried by many temptations, she was also consoled by spiritual joys and ecstasies. Bl. Helen seems to have had the gift of healing, since many sick persons were cured through her prayers.
During the last three years of her life Bl. Helen was unable to rise from her bed, but she insisted upon maintaining her bed of stones and chaff.
Bl. Helen died on April 23, 1458 at the age of sixty-two. Her cultus was confirmed in 1848.