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Saint Stephen preaching.
Saint Stephen (Koine Greek: Στέφανος, Stephanos), known as the Protomartyr of Christianity, is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Stephen means "wreath" or "crown" in Greek. He was one of the first in the early Church to bear the title Archdeacon.


Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin (priests) for blasphemy against Moses and God ( ) and speaking against the Temple and the Law ( ) (see also Antinomianism). He was stoned to death (c. A.D. 34–35) by an infuriated mob encouraged by Saul of Tarsus, the future Saint Paul: "And Saul entirely approved of putting him to death" (8:1). [4808].Stephen's final speech was presented as accusing the Jews of persecuting prophets who spoke out against their sins:
'"Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers." (7:52)

Saint Stephen's name is simply derived from the Greek Stephanos, meaning "crown", which translated into Aramaic as Kelil. Traditionally, Saint Stephen is invested with a crown of martyrdom for Christianity; he is often depicted in art with three stones and the martyrs' palm. In Eastern Christian iconography, he is shown as a young beardless man with a tonsure, wearing a deacon's vestments, and often holding a miniature church building or a censer.


Byzantine icon, XI c.
As he was on trial and being prosecuted, Saint Stephen experienced a theophany. His theophany was unusual in that he saw both the Father and the Son:
"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." ( )

St. Stephen's Day

In Western Christianity, 26 December is called "St Stephen's Day", the "feast of Stephen" of the English Christmas carol, "Good King Wenceslas". It is a public holiday in many nations that were historically Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran: Austriamarker, Croatiamarker, the Czech Republic, Slovak Republicmarker, Polandmarker, Republika Srpska, United Kingdommarker (where it was also called "Boxing Day"), Irelandmarker, Italymarker, Germanymarker, Finlandmarker, Canadamarker, Australia and New Zealandmarker. In Cataloniamarker (though not elsewhere in Spain), it is called Sant Esteve and is a bank holiday. In Francemarker, the day of Saint Étienne is a bank holiday in the Alsace-Moselle region, but not elsewhere. 26 December is also a holiday in Tuguegarao Citymarker, Philippinesmarker, which celebrates a fiesta in honor of St Stephen Protomartyr, its patron saint.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, St. Stephen's feast day is celebrated on December 27. (This date in the Julian Calendar currently corresponds to January 9 in the Gregorian Calendar.) This day is also called the "Third Day of the Nativity".

The General Roman Calendar included also on 3 August a feast of the Invention of the Relics of St Stephen — "Invention," ( ), meaning "finding" or "discovery" — to commemorate the finding of St Stephen's relics during the reign of Emperor Honorius. In the Tridentine Calendar, this feast was celebrated as a "Semidouble", a rank that it lost in 1955, when Pope Pius XII reduced it to the rank of "Simple". It was one of the second feasts of a single saint removed from the calendar by Pope John XXIII in 1960, and so is not celebrated by those who, in accordance with Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, observe the 1962 calendar.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the discovery (opening) of the Saint's relics on September 15 and the Translation of the Relics of Protomartyr Stephen on August 2. The September 15 feastday celebrates the discovery of Stephen's relics in 415 CE, after which they were solemnly transferred to a church built in his honor in Jerusalem. Later, during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450), the relics were translated to Constantinoplemarker, the event commemorated on Aug 2. Jan 4 marks the commemoration of the "Synaxis of the 70 Apostles". Since St. Stephen was included in these 70 Apostles mentioned in the "Acts of the Apostles", he is also remembered on Jan 4. Saint Stephen was a great leader of the Catholic Church.


Many churches are named in honor of Saint Stephen, but there was no official "Tomb of St Stephen" until 415. When Christian pilgrims were traveling in large numbers to Jerusalem, a priest named Lucian said he had learned by a vision that the tomb was in Caphar Gamala, some distance to the north of Jerusalemmarker.

Gregory of Tours reported that the intercession of Stephen preserved an oratory dedicated to him at Metzmarker, in present-day Francemarker. His relics were preserved when the oratory was left standing, after Huns burned the remainder of the city on Easter Eve, 451.

Commemorative places

See also: St. Stephen's Cathedral, St. Stephen's Church
St. Stephen Church in Batroun, Lebanon


  1. General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII
  2. General Roman Calendar of 1962
  3. Paul Halsall, ed., "Gregory of Tours (539-594)", History of the Franks: Books I-X, Internet Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University, accessed 4 Aug 2009

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