Stephen, first martyr - December 26th
St Stephen (Relics: Rome, Italy)
St Stephen was martyred in Jerusalem shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ. The earliest tradition places the location of his martyrdom on the northern edge of the Old City where the present Damascus Gate is located. At the time of St Stephen’s death this location would have been just outside of the city walls. The Byzantines later expanded Jerusalem and named the present Damascus Gate after St Stephen to honor the location of his martyrdom. In the 16th century the Ottoman Turks rebuilt the walls and gave this gate its current name. A later tradition places the martyrdom near the Lion’s Gate on the eastern edge of the city. This tradition is commemorated by a small chapel built over a small outcropping of stone at St Stephen’s Orthodox Church. This chapel is accessed by a side entrance along the church’s northern edge. One then descends a flight of stairs to the chapel. Opening hours for this chapel are irregular. The relics of St Stephen, like the location of his martyrdom, have been held in great honor since the time of the early church. Tradition claims that the tomb of St Stephen was miraculously discovered in Jerusalem in 415 AD through a special revelation given to a priest named Lucian. They were then placed within the now-destroyed Church of Holy Zion which was located in the south-west corner of the city. Then in 439 they were translated to a newly constructed Byzantine church just north of Jerusalem’s walls. This Byzantine church was destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD and the relics lost. A new church built over the ruins of this ancient church, called the Basilique de Saint- Étienne, was dedicated in 1900. It honors the memory of Stephen. At some point relics of St Stephen were purportedly transferred westward to Europe. They are now found in many different cities. Among these is Rome where a long-standing tradition holds that a large portion of his remains rest in San Lorenzo fuori le Mura.
First Class Relics
San Lorenzo fuori le Mura
(Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls)
Piazzale del Verano 3
*This church is east of the Aurelian Walls.
*The remains of St Lawrence (d. 258), St Stephen, and St Justin lie in the confessio below the main altar. (Note: The relics are labeled as St Justin the Presbyter. Therefore, it is likely that this is not St Justin the Martyr.)
*A marble stone slab beneath the choir floor is said to be the stone on which St Lawrence was placed after his execution. Also enshrined in this lower area is the body of Blessed Pius IX (d. 1878).
Churches of Honor in Jerusalem
Basilique de Saint-Étienne
(Basilica of Saint Stephen)
6 Nablus Road
91190 Jerusalem, Israel
*As noted above this church honors the memory of St Stephen
Greek Orthodox Church of St Stephen
91190 Jerusalem, Israel
*As noted above a chapel just below this church marks a possible location of St Stephen’s martyrdom.
Churches of Honor in Rome
Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls
Via Ostiense 186
*This basilica is south of the Aurelian Walls.
*In the left transept is a small chapel dedicated to St Stephen.
*St Paul is buried in the confessio. Above his tomb are the chains that were used to imprison him prior to his martyrdom. These chains were placed in this prominent location in 2008.
*Also a crucifix that is said to have spoken to St Bridget in 1370 is in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
San Martino ai Monti
(Saint Martin at the Hills)
Viale Monte Oppio 28
*This church is south of the Basilica of St Mary Major.
*The fourth chapel on the right side of the nave is dedicated to St Stephen.
*The greater part of the remains of St Martin I (d. 655) were transferred from Crimea to this church in Rome. They now rest in the confessio below the main altar. This confessio also houses the relics of many other saints taken from the Catacombs of Priscilla.
Santo Stefano Protomartire
(Saint Stephen the First Martyr)
Via San Stefano del Cacco 26
*This church is south of the Pantheon and it is dedicated to St Stephen. It is not open often.