Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 26 December 2014

St Stephen's Day

St Stephen, whose feast falls today is, of course, venerated as the first martyr of the Church - apart that is from the claims to that dignity of the Holy Innocents and St John the Baptist. To mark his feast I am republishing a post from this day three years ago with a few emendations and additions.
The Stoning of St Stephen
From the St Stephen Altarpiece by Michael Pacher c.1470

Image: art.com

There are a series of readings and traditional devotions to him, as well as various depictions here.

St Stephen.
He is quite often shown in a standing pose but being bombarded with stones.
A rather effete depiction of a saint who was anything but that, being noticeably robust according to the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7.

The remainder of this post is adapted from a post from this day in 2005 on A Catholic Life.

"If you know what witness means, you understand why God brings St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents to the crib in the cave as soon as Christ is born liturgically. To be a witness is to be a martyr. Holy Mother Church wishes us to realize that we were born in baptism to become Christ — He who was the world's outstanding Martyr" (Love Does Such Things by Rev. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O.)

We have only just celebrated the birth of our Lord and already the liturgy presents us with the feast of the first person to give his life for this Baby who has been born. Yesterday we wrapped Christ in swaddling clothes; today, he clothes Stephen with the garment of immortality. Yesterday, a narrow manger cradled the baby Christ; today, the infinite heaven has received Stephen in triumph (St. Fulgentius, Sermon 3)

This painting is a detail from The Ordination of St Stephen by Blessed Fra Angelico
(circa 1395-1455) in the Niccoline chapel in the Vatican.
Saint Peter is ordaining Stephen to the diaconate while Saint John the Beloved (whose feast is tomorrow), holding his Gospel, looks on.

The composition is remarkable: the three heads of Peter, John and Stephen form a triangle, a symbol of communion in the Three Divine Persons. Peter is handing over the chalice and paten which are very large. Fra Angelico makes the Most Holy Eucharist central; he paints what Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, i.e. that the unity of the Church is constituted and held together by participation in the adorable Body and Blood of Christ.

Source for the above excerpt: Vultus Christi

The Martyrdom of St Stephen.
A rather florid Baroque view.

Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, ora pro nobis. Amen

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, so to imitate what we revere, that we may learn to love even our enemies: for we celebrate the heavenly Birthday of him who knew how to pray for his very persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who liveth and reigneth with Thee.

1962 Daily Missal

Images: A Catholic Life blog

The following year I posted another depiction of his death - again very much in the most dramatic Baroque style:

Fichier:Peter Paul Rubens - The Martyrdom of St Stephen - WGA20224.jpg

The Martyrdom of St Stephen

Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Musee des Beaux Arts, Valenciennes

Image: fr.Wikipedia

That year I also posted St Stephen at Bourges about one of the greatest churches under his patronage.


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