Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – The Findings of the Relics of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr

detail from the stained glass window known as the 'Bayern Window' depicting the Stoning of Saint Stephen; date and artist unknown; Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany; photographed on 1 May 2006 by Raimond Spekking; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

After Saint Stephen, the first martyr, had been stoned to death by the Jews for having incontestably 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 Gamaliel, who had formerly been a teacher, and later a disciple of Saint Paul. He arranged everything so that the body of Saint 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 Judaea, 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 Saint Stephen was buried, a priest of the church of Jerusalem, named Lucian. Gamaliel appeared to this holy man in his sleep and disclosed to him where the bodies of Saint Stephen, Nicodemus, his son Abibon, and his own were lying, telling him, at the same time, to inform Saint 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. 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 Saint 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 and Patriarch was exceedingly great. He called the bishops and priests of the neighboring 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 above mentioned: Saint Stephen, Saint Nicodemus, Saint Abibon, Saint 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 on touching the sacred relics, especially those of Saint Stephen. The body of the proto-martyr 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 remarkable discovery of the relics of Saint 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 proto-martyr. All countries and cities applied for portions of the relics, and many were favored 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 Saint Austin 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 Saint 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 Saint 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, returned to life and health when her habit was laid on 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 Martial, 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 baptized. Two sisters, who were afflicted with epilepsy, were instantly cured by these relics. Many other miracles are narrated by Saint Austin, and he concludes with these words: “If I alone were to relate what I know of the miraculous cures performed *by Saint Stephen at Calama and in its neighborhood, 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 Saint Austin 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?

Practical Considerations

• The many miracles which God wrought through the relics of Saint Stephen, are a certain sign that the veneration of sacred relics and the invocation of the Saints are pleasing to Him and beneficial to us. If they had not been allowable, or not agreeable to the Almighty, He would not have wrought the miracles nor would He have bestowed such remarkable grace upon those who venerated the relics, or invoked the Saints. Be not misled, therefore by those who speak with contempt of sacred relics or reject and denounce the veneration and invocation of the Saints. Honor as was the ancient custom, the sacred relics, and reverence the Saints and implore their intercession, as friends of God, and our faithful advocates around His throne. The church has never adored Saints or relics. To those, therefore, who say to you, “The Catholics practice idolatry with the Saints and their relics” give the same answer that Daniel gave to each of the wicked judges, to whom he said: “Well hast you lied against thy own head.” “Imbecile!” writes Saint Jerome to the heretic Vigilantius, “who has ever adored the holy martyrs? Who has taken man to be a God?” And elsewhere he says: “We honor the sacred relics because they are of those men who became martyrs for the sake of Him whom we worship, We honor the servants, that the honor we bestow upon them may go to the Almighty, who says: “They who receive you, receive me.” Well may non-Catholics be opposed to sacred relics, as they are a continual proof of the truth of our holy religion, such as they cannot bring forward for their’ s; for never yet has any one died in their belief, at whose tomb miracles have been wrought by the power of the Almighty. Should not this alone be sufficient to open their eyes and bring them to the knowledge of the truth?

• God revealed where the body of Saint Stephen lay, and caused him to be greatly honored on earth; still greater will be the glory ©f this sacred body, when at the resurrection, it will be again united to the soul. Your body will also be reunited to your soul, on the day of resurrection; for our faith teaches us, that we shall rise from the dead, and receive again the body which is now our’s on earth. The reason for this is, that our body, which now partakes of our good or evil deeds, must then receive either the punishment or recompense we deserve. Hence there will be a great difference between the bodies of the just and those of sinners. Among other gifts, the body of the just will receive great beauty. Its splendor will surpass the brightness of the stars; while the body of the sinner will be more hideous and repulsive than we can imagine. The soul of the just, united to the body, will rise to Heaven, where both will enjoy more bliss than the mind of man can conceive; while the soul of the sinner, with his body, after the judgment, will be precipitated into hell and there suffer inexpressible pains and torments, for all eternity. How will your body fare? Although I have already answered this question, several months ago, I will do so again. If you use the members of your body to commit sin and offend God, rest assured that, with your soul, it will be banished into hell, where it will suffer the most excruciating pain, as long as God remains God. If however, you use your body in the service of the Almighty, keep it unspotted by sin, patiently carry the crosses and trials God sends you to bear, it will, with your soul, be received into Heaven, where it will enjoy unspeakable happiness, as long as God remains God. Hence if you love your body and desire for it eternal bliss, use it as long as you are on earth in the service of the Almighty, after the example of Saint Stephen. Do not defile it with sin and vice. Bear patiently all it has to suffer, and do not use its members as instruments to offend Him who has given them to you. Consecrate it entirely to God and his service, according to the admonition of Saint Paul, who says: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice, wholly pleasing unto God; your reasonable service.” (Romans 12) Besides this, remember the advice which you have heard, and use it to your own benefit. If your body desires anything wrong, refuse it; otherwise it will have to suffer for it. If it encounters a difficulty in the service of God, if it has to suffer pains, use all the strength of your soul to make it suffer without complaint; as it will be greatly rewarded. Console yourself with the hope of your future resurrection, and reward, as the Machabees and other holy martyrs and confessors have done. Say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day, I shall rise out of the earth and shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God.” (Job 19)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “The Findings of the Relics of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 March 2018. Web. 19 February 2019. <>