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St. Stephen with the attributes of a martyr's palm and stones. The saint wears the dalmatic of a deacon.

Stephen (* approx. 1 AD; † approx. 36/40 AD) is a deacon of the early Jerusalem community in the New Testament . He is considered the first martyr of Christianity and is therefore often referred to as an arch-martyr or protomartyr. Its name suggests a Hellenistic origin. Since 560 AD the relics of St. Stephen in the crypt of San Lorenzo fuori le mura in Rome next to those of the Roman archdeacon Laurentius . Stephen is venerated as a saint in the Catholic , Orthodox , Anglican , Old Catholic, and Lutheran churches .

Appointment as a deacon

St. Stephanus, altar panel by Hans Memling (around 1480)

When more and more poor people, especially widows and orphans , had to be cared for in the early church in Jerusalem and there were disputes between the Jewish Christians in Aramaic and Greek , the apostles feared that they would have to neglect their teaching and preaching duties. The assembled congregation therefore elected seven deacons , men “of good repute and full of spirit and wisdom”, who should also take care of the widows of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who had hitherto been ignored.

One of these seven deacons was Stephen, described as "full of power and grace". As can be deduced from his Greek name (“wreath”, “crown”), he himself belonged to the Jews whose families had mostly lived outside the Holy Land for a long time , in the area of ​​Greek language and culture. As a deacon he worked in Jerusalem as a poor carer and evangelist .


Stoning of Saint Stephen , altarpiece by San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
St. Stephen preaching ( miniature painting , 14th century)

The in Acts ( ActsEU and ActsEU described) event represents as at a court hearing before the Sanhedrin, the result of the interaction of Stephen Sanhedrin , came: From a group of Hellenistic Jews, is claimed Stephen had said, that Jesus of Nazareth wants to destroy “the place” - meaning the temple - and change Jewish customs. The high priest turns to Stephen with the question “Is that so?” He answers with the longest speech in the book of Acts. The historical-critical method sees in chapters 6 and 7 the editorial work of the author of the Acts of the Apostles. Although there is no explicit confession by name to Jesus Christ , the fact that it is about him is made clear by the fact that "the righteous one" (see Isa 53  EU ) is mentioned in Acts 7.52  EU , in which the early church recognized Jesus Christ. Stephen is portrayed as a learned man who knew the tradition and history of Israel and saw himself in the line of men who proclaimed the will of God, but who were despised by the people for that very reason. Stephen is portrayed as a penitential preacher who, through the history of Israel and the rejection of its prophets , showed the accusers that they themselves were in the dock and how their fathers made the mistake of rejecting Jesus Christ.

Johann von Schraudolph , Stoning of Stephanus, 1850. Destroyed fresco in Speyer Cathedral ; left in the green cloak King Ludwig I of Bavaria as Saul.

After his defense speech, Stephen looked up and shouted: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This identification of Jesus with the Son of Man promised in Dan 7.13  EU embittered the members of the Synedrium to such an extent that they immediately spoke to Stephen packed and stoned in front of the city . Stephen commanded his spirit to Jesus, sank on his knees and cried: "Lord, do not count this sin on them!" With these words, Stephen followed the example of Jesus, who also dying had put his spirit into the hands of God and prayed for his executioners : "Father, forgive them because they don't know what they are doing."


Stephen is the first recorded to be killed because of his confession of Jesus Christ. This makes him the first martyr or arch martyr. The account of his execution states: "The witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man whose name was Saul ... But Saul consented to the murder." The stoning of Stephen was the prelude to a persecution of Christians in Jerusalem Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul , was particularly keen.

St. Stephen by the Master of the Altöttinger Doors (1520–1530) (hardwood), Bavarian National Museum in Munich


In the Eastern Church and Roman Catholic iconography , Stephen is depicted as a deacon, often together with Laurentius and Vinzentius . He is holding a martyr's palm in one hand and stones in the other. Occasionally these are also on a gospel book he is holding or next to him.


Stephen is in the Catholic Church 's patron saint of coopers , coachman, bricklayer, stonemason , grooms, weavers, tailors and carpenters. He is called in the event of obsession , headaches, stone problems and for a good hour of death. His function as the patron saint of the grooms may be based on pre-Christian cult customs. He is also considered the patron saint of the cities of Passau , Turin , Prato and Biella .

To St. Many churches are consecrated to Stephen (see Stephen's Church ), numerous places ( Saint-Étienne , Santo Estêvão ) and Christian institutions all over the world are named after him.

Remembrance day

The December 26 is the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church , Old Catholic Church , the Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church of the memorial of Sts. Stephen. If December 26th falls on a Sunday, the feast of St. Stephen in favor of the Feast of the Holy Family . In 21 of the 26 cantons in Switzerland, in Austria, Germany and in almost all other European countries, St. Stephen's Day on December 26th is a public holiday. The Protestant agenda also includes the celebration of St. Stephen's Day on December 26th. As a rule, however, this is not noticed, and the date is celebrated as Christmas Day. In the Evangelical Church in Württemberg , the “Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians” has been celebrated since 2007 on the day of the Arch-Martyr Stephen.

The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Stephen's Day on December 27th . In the Serbian Orthodox Church , which still celebrates its holidays according to the Julian calendar, Stephen's day is January 9th until 2100 .

The following were committed until the second half of the 20th century:

  • May 7th as the commemoration day of the translation of the bones of St. Stephen to Rome (only in the Martyrology)
  • August 3rd as the day of remembrance of the discovery of the bones of St. Stephen in Jerusalem (abolished before the council)

These days can still be found as church patronage.


  • Alexandra Fritsch: St. Lorenz: Stephanus, Laurentius, Deocarus . Church patrons and altar saints. Association for the Preservation of St. Lorenz Church in Nuremberg V., Nuremberg 2001, DNB 963488724 .
  • Erhard Gorys : Lexicon of the saints. 8th edition. dtv, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-423-34149-3 .
  • Hiltgart L. Keller: Lexicon of saints and biblical figures. Legend and representation in the fine arts . 11th edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-15-010768-3 .
  • Johannes Lenz: Stephanus and Paulus . Arch martyrs and apostles of the people. Urachhaus, Stuttgart 2008. ISBN 3-8251-7627-4
  • Erna Melches, Hans Melchers; Carlo Melchers (ed.): The great book of saints. History, legends, name days. Südwest, Munich 1965; Ludwig, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-7787-3685-X (first edition as The Year of the Saints - History and Legend ).
  • Carlo Maria Martini: Stephanus . Witness to God with life. Translated from the Italian by Stefan Liesenfeld. Neue Stadt, Munich / Zurich / Vienna 1990, ISBN 3-87996-249-9 .
  • Hans-Christoph Goßmann:  Stephanus. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 10, Bautz, Herzberg 1995, ISBN 3-88309-062-X , Sp. 1411-1416.
  • Klaus Haacker : Stephanus. Slandered, adored, misunderstood. In: Biblical Figures. Volume 28, Leipzig 2014.
  • Rainer Schulz: Stephanus - figure without a face. Reception-hermeneutic studies of a theological figure Evangelische Verlagsanstalt Leipzig 2016, ISBN 978-3-374-04296-8 .

Web links

Wikiquote: Stephen  - Quotes
Commons : Stephanus  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ( Acts 6 : 1-6  EU )
  2. Wilfried Eckey: The Acts of the Apostles. Teilbd. 1. Neukirchen 2000.
  3. ( Acts 7.55-60  EU )
  4. Erna Melchers, Hans Melchers, Carlo Melchers (ed.): The great book of the saints. History and legend throughout the year. Südwest, Munich 1978. ISBN 3-517-00617-3 , pp. 828-829.
  5. Erna Melchers, Hans Melchers, Carlo Melchers (ed.): The great book of the saints. History and legend throughout the year. Südwest, Munich 1978, ISBN 3-517-00617-3 , p. 829.
  6. ^ Diocese of Passau: Patron
  7. August 3rd - Finding of the relics of St. Stefanus ( Memento from June 29, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), Society of St. Pius X.