The Finding of Saint Stephen’s Relics

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The Finding of Saint Stephen’s Relics


This second festival in honor of the holy protomartyr Saint Stephen was instituted by the Church on the occasion of the discovery of his precious remains. His body had long lain concealed under the ruins of an old tomb in Caphargamala, a place twenty miles from Jerusalem, where there was a church served by a venerable priest named Lucian.

In the year 415, on the 3rd of December, the priest was sleeping on his cot in the baptistry, where he habitually retired in order to guard the sacred vessels of the church. Being half awake, he saw a tall, comely old man of venerable aspect, clothed in white and gold, who approached him and called him by his name three times, bidding him go to Jerusalem and tell Bishop John to come and open the tombs where his remains and those of certain other servants of Christ lay. This act would permit God to open the gates of His clemency to many souls, the visitor affirmed. Lucian asked his name, and he replied, I am Gamaliel, who instructed Saint Paul in the Law. Gamaliel then said they would also find the tomb of Saint Stephen, protomartyr, and of Nicodemus, who came to visit Jesus at night and who, when driven out of Jerusalem by the authorities, had been sheltered by himself in his country residence at the present site. This vision was twice repeated, and on the third visit, the priest was reproached for his delay. He was promised that the discovery would cause a current famine to cease.

After the third vision, Lucian went to Jerusalem and laid the whole affair before Bishop John, who directed him to go and search himself for these relics. And Gamaliel appeared again, this time to a holy monk of the same region, to indicate the exact site where the inhabitants of the village should dig. There indeed were found three coffins or chests with the respective names engraved on them; and without opening these, Lucian sent immediately to acquaint Bishop John with the discovery. The bishop was at the Council of Diospolis, and, taking with him the bishops of Sebastis and of Jericho, he journeyed to Caphargamala.

Upon the opening of Saint Stephen’s coffin the earth trembled, and there came from the coffin an agreeable scent. There was at that moment a vast multitude of people assembled at the burial place, among whom were many persons afflicted with various maladies; seventy-three recovered their health instantly. They kissed the holy relics, and then the chests were closed again. The bishop left the relics of Gamaliel and Nicodemus for the village, and consented to leave a small portion of Saint Stephen’s relics there; then, amid the singing of psalms and hymns, the rest of them were carried to the Church of Sion in Jerusalem. They were later transferred to a magnificent church built in his honor in that city, towards the end of the fifth century. The greater part of the relics are presently in Rome.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 9

Saint Stephen I

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Saint Stephen I

Pope and martyr
(† 257)

Saint Stephen was by birth a Roman. After being promoted to Holy Orders, he was made Archdeacon of Rome under the holy Popes Saint Cornelius and Saint Lucius. When these had both suffered martyrdom, Saint Stephen was elected Head of the Church in the year 254.

Controversy concerning the rebaptizing of heretics gave Saint Stephen much trouble. The heretics themselves were rebaptizing Catholics who left the orthodox faith to join them; certain oriental bishops decided then to rebaptize those who returned to it from their errors, and some African bishops joined them in this practice. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church, however, that baptism given with natural water and in the name of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity is valid, even if conferred by those in error. Saint Stephen suffered patiently when accused of favoring heresy by ratifying such baptisms; he did not doubt that the great men in whom a mistaken zeal seemed to obscure the truth would, when the heat of the dispute had subsided, calmly open their eyes to the truth. Thus by his zeal he preserved the integrity of the Faith, and by his toleration and forbearance saved many souls.

When the persecutions grew violent, he assembled the faithful in the underground tombs of the martyrs, going from one catacomb to another to baptize neophytes, celebrate Mass and exhort them to remain true to Christ. After twelve members of his clergy were martyred, he himself was arrested; but he was set free when a violent storm so frightened the soldiers and executioners sent to put him to death, that they fled. Nonetheless, he was followed to a catacomb by the emperor’s satellites, and on August 2, 257, while seated in his pontifical chair, he was beheaded. The chair, stained with his blood, was placed with his relics in the Church which he had built and is still shown in the same church, today Saint Sylvester in capite.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 9; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

Saint Alphonsus Mary Liguori

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Saint Alphonsus Mary Liguori

Yesterday we admired, in Peter and the Machabees, the substructure of the palace built by Wisdom in time to endure for eternity. Today, in conformity with the divine ways of that Wisdom, who in her playing reaches from end to end, we are suffered to contemplate the progress of the glorious building, to behold the summit of the work, the last row of stones actually laid. Now, summit and foundation, the work is all one; the materials are all priceless: witness the diamond of fine water which displays its luster today.

To this great Saint, great both in works and in doctrine, are directly applied these words of the Holy Ghost: they that instruct many to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity (Dan. xii. 3). At the time he appeared, an odious sect was denying the mercy and the sweetness of our heavenly Father; it triumphed in the practical conduct of even those who were shocked by its Calvinistic theories. Under pretext of a reaction against an imaginary school of laxity, and denouncing with much ado some erroneous propositions made by obscure persons, the new Pharisees had set themselves up as zealous for the law. Stretching the commandments, and exaggerating the sanction, they loaded the conscience with the same unbearable burdens which the Man-God reproached the ancient Pharisees with laying on the shoulders of men; but the cry of alarm they had raised in the name of endangered morals, had none the less deceived the simple, and ended by misleading even the best.  Continue reading