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December 27, 2018

Miracles of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr in Sixth Century France

By St. Gregory of Tours

(Glory of the Martyrs, 33)

Stephen was the first deacon of the holy church and the first martyr at Jerusalem, as the sacred history of the apostles relates. He was stoned to death for the holy name of Christ whom he saw at the right hand [of God] in a spiritual vision of power; he begged the mercy [of God] for his persecutors.

Near Tours there is an oratory that people long ago dedicated in Stephen's name and that I ordered to be enlarged a bit. When the reconstruction was completed, we moved the altar forward, exactly as it had been before. But while we were looking in its reliquary, we found none of the holy relics that tradition claimed [to be there]. I sent one of the abbots to fetch relics of Stephen for us from the oratory of the church house, but I forgot to give him the key for the reliquary, which was hanging on my belt. Once the abbot arrived, he removed the seal from the cupboard but found the reliquary locked. He was uncertain about what to do or how to act. If he returned to me, it would require much time to go and come back; if he brought the entire reliquary, he knew I would be annoyed, because in it were the relics of many saints; if he did nothing, he would not obey the order he had received. Why say more? When he took the reliquary hesitantly in his hand, the bolts clicked back and he saw that it was unlocked. He gave thanks, took the relics, and with great amazement brought them to me. At God's command I transferred them [to the altar] during the celebration of liturgy. Many days later I returned to Tours; there I found the reliquary just as I had left it, locked and again bolted.

There is a relic of the blood of this holy deacon, as is popularly claimed, in the altar of a church at Bourges. During the episcopacy of Felix a man accused his neighbors of some crime. After he had at length abused his neighbors with provocative words and had challenged them to a public hearing, it was decreed by a mandate of the leading men of the city that the neighbors would clear themselves of this crime for which they were accused by an oath. They approached the altar of the aforementioned church, raised their hands, and swore their oath. The accuser in the case insisted in a loud voice that they had perjured themselves. Suddenly his feet were jerked up, he was tossed into the air, and his head struck the pavement. To the surrounding crowd he seemed almost lifeless. Almost two hours later when he was thought to be clearly dying, he opened his eyes and confessed his misdeed; he admitted that he had unjustly harassed these men and unjustly proclaimed them to be guilty. In this way, by disclosing the innocent and exposing the guilty the power of the blessed Stephen was clearly apparent.

At Bordeaux an old woman, stooped by old age but strengthened by the faith of a pure mind, was accustomed to bring oil and light the lamps in the churches of the saints. In order to do her job, on Saturday night she entered the church of the blessed apostle Peter. The altar of this church was situated on top of a platform. Its lower part, like a crypt, was closed off by a door; the crypt however had its own altar with relics of saints. This venerable woman piously descended into this crypt to light the lamp, as I have said; only one young girl accompanied her. While she performed her task, the approaching night covered the world in darkness. Clerics arrived, chanted the verses of the psalms, locked the door of the crypt, and left, not knowing that the woman was inside. Once she lit the lamp, the woman hurried to the door to depart. When she found the door closed, she shouted and called by name for someone who should open it for her. Because of her old age her voice was too weak to be heard through the closed door. When she realized that no one heard, she quietly knelt on the pavement and said: 'Let me pray for my sins and the sins of the people to the Lord, the creator of all, until the person who ought to open the entrance of this church returns.'

She stayed awake while praying; and about midnight she saw the doors open and the entire church shine with a great light. And behold, a choir of men chanting psalms entered the church. Then, after they had recited the Gloria in honor of the Trinity and stopped chanting psalms, she heard them talking and complaining among themselves: 'The deacon Saint Stephen has delayed us. For we ought already to be entering other churches, but we cannot until he whom we await first arrives.' As they frequently repeated this complaint, suddenly a man dressed in white arrived. The entire group of men respectfully and humbly greeted him and said: 'Bless us, Saint Stephen, holy deacon.' He returned the greeting and offered a prayer. They asked him why he had been a bit tardy in visiting the sacred shrines. He replied: 'A ship faced the danger of sinking at sea; after being summoned I went and rescued [the ship]. Behold, now I am here! And so that you may verify what I am saying to be true, the garment I am wearing was clearly drenched by the waves, because salt water is still dripping [from it].'

Although pressed shivering to the pavement, the woman was intently watching all these events. After the men left and the doors by divine command were again locked, the woman went to the spot where the saint had stood and carefully soaked up in a handkerchief the drops that had fallen on the pavement. She showed the handkerchief to Bertramn, who was then ruling the city [of Bordeaux] as bishop. With great joy and amazement he took it and kept it with him. Many ill people received their health from this handkerchief; the bishop himself often snipped relics from it and faithfully placed them where he consecrated churches. I learned about these events from an account by the bishop himself.