In the footsteps of Saint Stephen
Acts 6 and 7:54-60
Stephen: 5-34 AD
We are in Jerusalem
Stephen lived in the 1 century and is the first Christian martyr. Martyr means witness.
After Jesus had died, resurrected and went to heaven, there was a big crises among the followers of Jesus who were all Jewish, like Jesus
His followers believed he was the Messiah,
Room of the last supper in Jerusalem Old City Today
The 12 apostles who 10 days after the Ascension of Jesus received the Holy Spirit in the room of the Last Supper, were working hard to continue to spread the teachings of Jesus. They became missionaries.
They lived together , as a community.
Some of the widows they took care of were neglected, because they were too busy being missionaries. And the Apostles probable did not even have time to take care of their own every day things, like cooking, washing and cleaning. So the Apostles ordained 7 deacons to take care of these widows.
A Deacon means the one who serves.
The oldest of the 7 deacons was called Stephen, he received the title Archdeacon, which means the chief among the deacons.
Stephen means Crown
He was Jewish, like the 12 apostles and the 6 other deacons.
According to the book of Acts, Stephen did wonders and signs among the people and became very popular.
This was considered so annoying by the the Jewish religious leaders that he was accused of blasphemy. Blasphemy means speaking offensively about God or sacred things, or speaking against God and Moses.
He was put on trial by the Sanhedrin
The Temple Mount with the 2nd Temple
The Sanhedrin at that time, was the Jewish court system. It was a religious assembly of 71 sages who met in a room in the Temple.
According to the book of Acts in the New Testament, several people came and produced false testimonies. An interesting detail is that one of the 10 commandments says: you shall not produce false testimony.
Stephen was charged of blasphemy.
He responded by detailing the history of Israel and he even admonished the Sanhedrin, calling them stubborn.
When he finished speaking he had a vision of Jesus standing next to God.
This was the proof for the Sanhedrin that Stephen was indeed guilty of blasphemy, as Jews ( until today ) did not believe Jesus was the Messiah or son of God.
The crowd that had witnessed the trial dragged Stephen out of the city gate and stoned him to death.
The stoning took place outside the city as executions were never to be conducted inside a city in that period.
There are two possible locations for the stoning.
Location 1 : Damascus Gate
a Byzantine tradition of the 5th century tells us it took place outside Damascus Gate
Location 2 : Lions’s Gate
a Crusader tradition of the 12th century tells us it took place in the Kidron valley, outside the Lions Gate
Old picture of Lions’s Gate
Both gates received the name of Stefanus Gate in those two periods.
He was buried, but we do not know where. One tradition tells us that Gamaliël, the president of the Sanhedrin allowed the family of Stephen to have him buried on the estate of his country house, but I will come back to this in a moment.
Video of Léontine Cohen : Tour guide in Jerusalem
Saint Etienne church
Today we have two churches of Saint Stephanus outside the Old City of Jerusalem.
photo of Saint Etienne church
A Catholic Church outside Damascus Gate and a Greek Orthodox Church outside Lions Gate.
Both churches are located close to tombs of the time period of Stephen.
Photo of Monastry of Saint Stefanus
There is another tradition related to the tomb of Saint Stephen and Gamaliel .
South of Beit Shemesh is located the Monastry of Beit Jamal
Photo of Beit Jamal Monastry
Jamal comes from Gamaliel the Elder
Gamaliel was a Rabbi and the president of the the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He was more tolerant than his colleagues towards the followers of Jesus.
He was also the teacher of Saul, now known to us as Saint Paul
Saint Paul, who originally was called Saul, was a Jew , who like many others in the time of Stephen, persecuted those Jews who had become followers of Jesus.
Paul, who in that time was still on the side of the Jews, witnessed the trial and stoning of Stephen. During the trial and the stoning he even carried the coats of the men who produced the fake testimonies. It is only later that he switched sides and became a follower of the teachings of Jesus.
So here we have link between Stephen Saint Paul and Beit Jamal.
In the 5 th century a priest had a dream where Gamaliel appeared to him and showed him the remains of the tombs of Stephen and Gamaliel.
Their remains were brought to Jerusalem, but a church was built on the location of the now empty tombs.
Today there is a Catholic Monastry built over the remains of the Byzantine church and the tombs.
I am Léontine Cohen
I am a passionate tour guide in Israel, licensed by the State of Israel to Guide in Jerusalem , where I live today.
I love to read, explore and write about my City : Jerusalem.
If you liked this article , please let me know by email my thoughts :
Whatsapp : +972 52-754-9422
Two more interesting details to know
The first 7 deacons were ordained by the Apostels who held their hands above the heads of the deacons. The hand is the symbol of the Holy Spirit that the Apostels recieved earlier. Until today this is how a deacon in the Church is ordained .
Today Saint Stephen is the Patron of the Deacons, altar servers, bricklayers, casket makers, stone Mason’s
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