Finding of the Relics of St. Stephen
By Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
After St. 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 St. Paul. He arranged everything so that the body of St. 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 Judasa, 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 St. 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 St. Stephen, Nicodemus, his son Abibon, and his own were lying, telling him, at the same time, to inform St. 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 St. 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: St. Stephen, St. Nicodemus, St. Abibon, St. 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 St. Stephen. The body of the protomartyr 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 St. 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 protomartyr. 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 St. 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 St. 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 St. 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 St. Austin, and he concludes with these words: “If I alone were to relate what I know of the miraculous cures performed by St. 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 St. 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? (2)
Image:whole right arm at The Holy Trinity of St. Sergius Lavra, established by St. Sergius of Radonezh in 1345, at Sergiyev Posad (5)