Who was Stephen?

Christmas is coming – and this year Christmas Day, when Christians celebrate God’s gift of His Son to the world, falls on a Saturday. On the Sunday, however, the mood shifts, even before we’ve had a chance to recover from all those satsumas. It’s the Feast of St Stephen.

That’s right! The day when, according to the carol, Good King Wenceslas looked out, saw a poor man gathering winter fuel, and was so filled with compassion that he and his page braved a blizzard to deliver pine logs and what we would now call a takeaway to where the man lived: Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing

What of Stephen himself? He, too, blessed the poor - the New Testament describes him as full of faith and the Holy Spirit, chosen for the task of caring for those in need. The signs and wonders he performed and the wisdom with which he spoke evidently brought him to the attention of the authorities. On trial for his life, he criticised them for having had Jesus killed. That led to him being dragged out of the city and stoned to death, the first of Jesus’ followers to die as a martyr. His body was buried some distance from the city, and its location possibly forgotten.

It so happens that the saintly King Wenceslas of Bohemia, whom the carol celebrates, also suffered martyrdom - his power-hungry brother had him murdered in September 935.

And Stephen’s tomb? It is said that in 415 its location was revealed in a dream to a Christian priest called Lucian as he slept in his church. Following their discovery the saint’s remains were moved to Jerusalem on 26th December that year.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.