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Saint Of The Day For December 26: Saint Stephen, First Martier

St Stephen, Protomartyr as he was the first to shed his blood for Christ. He was elected with 6 other deacons as a co-worker of the Apostles and died by stoning.

The Church celebrates him on 26 December.

He is the patron saint of stonecutters and masons.

Stephen in the Divine Comedy

“he saw stooping, for death
That already aggravated him, towards the earth,
But of his eyes he evermore made to heaven doors,
Praying to the high Sire, in so great a war
That he would pardon his persecutors
With that aspect which pity doth disarm. (Purgatorio XV)

In the Divine Comedy, Dante recounts having witnessed a touching scene: that of the stoning to death of a young man who, dying, begs forgiveness for his persecutors.

What strikes the Florentine poet is Stephen’s meekness, which in fact emerges in all its force in the Acts of the Apostles account of his story.

‘Lord, do not impute this sin to them,’ cries Stephen loudly, bending his knees a few moments before he expires.

Stephen, the young man filled with the Holy Spirit

Stephen was one of the first to follow the Apostles.

It has been speculated that he was Greek or Jewish educated in Hellenistic culture.

What is certain is that he was highly regarded in the Jerusalem community, so much so that his name appears in Acts as first among the seven who were elected to help the Apostles in their mission.

“A man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”, he performed wonders and miracles, but some in the synagogue stirred up the people, elders and scribes, saying that they heard him utter blasphemous expressions against Moses and God.

It was the time after Pentecost.

Stephen was dragged before the Sanhedrin, presented false witnesses who accused him of having heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene would destroy that place and subvert the customs handed down by Moses.

The stoning and forgiveness of Stephen

Stephen then delivered the longest speech in the Acts of the Apostles, a powerful speech in which he retraced the history of salvation.

God had prepared the coming of the Just One but they had resisted the Holy Spirit just as their fathers persecuted the prophets.

“Behold, I contemplate the heavens open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” Stephen concluded.

Words that cost him dearly.

Those present burst into loud shouts.

He was dragged out by the fury of the people and they began to stone him.

Among those who approved of his killing was Saul, who from being a fierce persecutor of Christians would later become the Apostle of the Gentiles, St Paul.

At his feet they laid Stephen’s cloak, and as the stones struck him, the young man asked Jesus to accept his spirit and forgive his murderers.

Strong devotion to St Stephen

The site of St Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem is traditionally located just outside the Damascus Gate, where the church of Saint-Étienne stands today.

In Christianity, devotion to St. Stephen was very strong from the beginning and reports of his relics date back to 400 AD.

The echo of his life, especially his martyrdom, has deeply permeated art.

He is often depicted with decorative stones or a palm tree.

A curiosity: in Italy alone, as many as 14 municipalities bear his name.

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