Martirio di Stefano

The Church celebrates today, on December 26, the feast day of Saint Stephen. As the original Protomartyr, Stephen is considered one of the most important Saints of all Christianity. His death is described in detail in the Acts of the Apostles: as one of the seven deacons chosen by the Apostles, Stephen had aroused the opposition of many members of Hellenistic Judaism by teaching and seemingly performing miracles in their synagogues. This led to them bringing him before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of Jewish elders, and accusing him of blasphemy against God and Moses. When Stephen insisted in calmly reprimanding their lack of faith in Christ as the Messiah, the crowd could no longer contain their rage and the Saint was martyrized by stoning. According to the Acts of the Apostles, the first men to throw stones at Stephen laid their coats at the feet of "a young man named Saul", later to be converted and known as Saint Paul the Apostle.

Western Christianity has always celebrated Stephen immediately following the Christmas celebrations, in order to honor the Saint's role as one of the comites Christi, the “Companions of Christ”, the first to testify his Gospel with their own life and martyrdom. The feast, also called "St. Stephen's Day", is now a public holiday in many nations of strong Catholic, Lutheran or Anglican history - such as Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, and most of Scandinavia. In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, the day is traditionally celebrated as "Boxing Day".


"Martyrdom of Stephen", historiated initial 'H', illumination from "The Stowe Breviary", ms. Stowe 12, f. 20v, between 1322 and 1325, British Library, London.

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