Saint of the Day – 3 August – The Finding of the Relics of St Stephen, Protomartyr.
St Stephen, the ProtoMartyr (c 05-c 34) – 26 December the Second Day in the Octave of Christmas.
The Finding of the Relics
of St Stephen, the ProtoMartyr
By Fr Francis Xavier Weninger SJ (1805-1888)
After St Stephen, the First Martyr, had been stoned to death by the Jews for having uncontestably proved that Christ, Whom they had Crucified, was the true Messiah, some pious men, filled with deep sorrow, buried him with all due reverence. Foremost among these was St Gamaliel, who had formerly been a rabbi and later a disciple of St Paul. He arranged everything, so that the body of St Stephen was carried, during the night, by some Christians, from the spot in which it lay, to his country-seat, which was a few miles from Jerusalem.
“In the course of time and in consequence of the persecution of the Christians in Juda, the location of his tomb was forgotten, until it pleased the Almighty to reveal it, in the time of the Emperor Honorius. There lived, at that period, in the place where St Stephen was buried, a Priest of the Church of Jerusalem, named Lucian. St Gamaliel appeared to this holy man in his sleep and disclosed to him where the bodies of St Stephen, St Nicodemus, his son St Abibon and his own body, were lying, telling him, at the same time, to inform St John, Bishop of Jerusalem, of this fact and to say that it was the will of God that he should exhume them for the benefit of many men. Lucian awakening and fearing it was but a dream, or perhaps even a delusion from Satan, did not tell the Bishop but humbly prayed to God that, if it were a revelation from on high, He would grant him a repetition of the vision. To this effect, Lucian continued in prayer and fasting for eight days, when Gamaliel again appeared to him and repeated all he had said before.
Lucian did not yet obey but, to be more certain, fasted and prayed eight days more. St Gamaliel appeared to him for the third time and, with a severe countenance, reproving him for not believing his words, commanded him to make the Bishop acquainted with the facts immediately, in order that the faithful might no longer be deprived of the benefits which they would obtain by the intercession of St Stephen and the other Saints.
After this third apparition, Lucian could no longer doubt and, betaking himself to the Bishop of Jerusalem, he communicated to him all that had happened. The joy of the holy Bishop was exceedingly great. He called the Bishops and Priests of the neighbouring Churches and, accompanied by them and a great number of Christians, he went to the place indicated and had the satisfaction of finding four coffins, on which were engraven the names of the Saints abovementioned – St Stephen, St Nicodemus, St Abibon, St.Gamaliel. When the coffins were reverently opened, there issued from them a fragrance as if the place had been filled with blooming flowers.
More than seventy persons, some of whom were sick and others possessed by evil spirits, were instantly restored to health, or relieved of their torments, upon touching the Sacred Relics, especially those of St Stephen. The body of the Protomartyr was carried with great solemnity to Jerusalem, and deposited in the Church of Sion, the oldest and largest Church in that City.
During the reign of Theodosius the Younger, it was transported to Constantinople, and thence to Rome in the reign of Pope Pelagius I. The rearkable discovery of the relics of St Stephen and the miracles, which had been wrought at their touch, were soon known all over the Christian world. The heretics, who, at that time persecuted the Church, were ashamed and the faithful strengthened in the True Faith and animated in their veneration for the Protomartyr.
All Countries and Cities applied for portions of the Relics and many were favoured with them, to the great benefit of the people. Many received only some of the earth in which the holy body had rested; others, a piece of linen which had touched his coffin but, by the pious use of them, as many miracles were wrought as by the relics themselves.
In St Augustine, we have an indisputable witness of this, as he lived at the time of the discovery. Among other things, he tells us, in the twenty second book of the “City of God,” of many great miracles wrought, in his presence, by these relics, in the city of Hippo, of which he was bishop, as also in adjacent Countries. A few of these we will here relate.
A blind woman’s sight was immediately restored, by touching her eyes with a flower, which, at her request, had been laid on the Relics of St Stephen. Lucillus, a Bishop, was cured of a dangerous fistula by devoutly carrying the Sacred Relics. Eucharius, a Priest, arose again to life, when they placed upon his corpse, a tunic which had rested on St Stephen’s body. Two men suffering with gout were cured by the same. A lad who was killed by being run over by a carriage, was not only restored to life, but his broken limbs were healed. A nun who had died, retuned to life and health, when her habit was laid upon her, ,after it had touched the Sacred Relics. Eleusinus placed the corpse of his child upon the spot where the Relics of the Saint had rested, and immediately, the child lived again. Upon the head of Marial, a hardened Jew, his brother-in-law–a Christian–laid a flower, which had been on the Altar near the Relics and the next day the Jew requested to be Baptised. Two sisters, who were afflicted with epilepsy, were instantly cured by these relics. Many other miracles are narrated by St Augustine and he concludes with these words: “If I alone were to relate what I know of the miraculous cures performed by St Stephen at Calama and in its neighbourhood, I should have to write many books and yet, not be able to collect all of them!”
What does a non-Catholic think or say on reading or hearing these and many other things which the holy Fathers have written of the Sacred Relics? He rejects all these histories and accuses St Augustine and other great teachers, of falsehood and superstition. But, if he believes even one of these miracles, how can he, according to the doctrines of his religion, condemn the veneration of Relics and the invocation of the Saints!?”
For us, who believe in the powerful intercession of our Saints through their holy Relics, let us pray:
A Prayer to the Holy Martyrs
to Obtain Their Protection
By St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696-1787)
O you blessed Princes of the heavenly Kingdom!
you who sacrificed to the Almighty God the honours,
the riches received in return, the unfading glory
and never-ending joys of Heaven!
you who are secure in the everlasting possession
of the brilliant Crown of glory
which your sufferings have obtained!
Look with compassionate regard upon
our wretched state in this vale of tears,
where we groan in the uncertainty
of what may be our eternal destiny.
And from that Divine Savior,
for Whom, you suffered so many torments
and Who now repays you with so unspeakable glory,
obtain for us that we may love Him,
with all our heart and receive in return,
the grace of perfect resignation,
under the trials of this life,
fortitude, under the temptations of the enemy
and perseverance, to the end.
May your powerful intercession
obtain for us that we may one day,
in your blessed company,
sing the praises of the Eternal
and even as you now do,
face-to-face, enjoy the Beatitude of His Vision!