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Stephen, Saint

stephen’s jewish century period

The first martyr (protomartyr) Stephen (d. c.35) was one of the seven deacons chosen by the *apostles to assist with the supervision of the early *church in Jerusalem. Described as “a man full of faith,” who did Page 234  “great wonders and miracles” (Acts 6:5, 8), his *preaching and *wisdom brought him to the attention of the Jewish religious leaders who accused him of blasphemy and brought him to trial. Acts 7 recounts Stephen’s lengthy speech in which his detailed knowledge of Jewish history and his proclamation of the Son of Man"standing on the right hand of *God" so angered the audience that they rushed upon him and stoned him to *death. Saul (later Saint *Paul) is mentioned among the witnesses to this event.


Stephen’s importance in the early church and the dramatic nature of his death at the hands of the *Jews made him a prominent figure in art and religion from the early Christian period onward. He appears in art from at least the fifth or sixth century, and scenes of his *martyrdom are among the most frequently represented subjects in hagiographic illustration through the Gothic period. Cycles depicting his martyrdom (frequently including his arrest and trial as well as stoning) are found in Carolingian manuscripts and frescoes of the ninth century, Byzantine manuscripts of the eleventh century, and with great frequency thereafter in manuscripts, sculpture, metalwork, and stained glass.


Some different pictorial formats may be noted for the martyrdom scene; Stephen may kneel or stand, the stone-throwing attackers may vary in number and approach from right or left, many or a few stones may fly through the air, and the hand of God may appear in the sky. A stone is the iconographic attribute by which Stephen may be identified when shown as a single figure; he is also often shown dressed as a deacon.


A number of later legends concerning Stephen’s early life, posthumous *miracles, as well as the discovery and translation of his *relics are also illustrated in art from the Romanesque period onward. Scenes include his body being guarded by wild animals before he was entombed (in the same grave as *Nicodemus); the visionary appearance of the Rabbi Gamaliel four centuries later who directed the discovery and identification of the grave; and the translation of the relics to the basilica of San Lorenzo in Rome where the martyr Saint *Lawrence moved over in the grave to provide room for Stephen’s body. Stephen is also depicted being ordained by Saint *Peter, preaching, in dispute with the Jewish elders, and seeing a vision of Christ.

Stephenson, Marjory - THE ENTRY OF WOMEN INTO THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES [next] [back] Steno, Nicolaus

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