On the Feast of Stephen

The apostles created seven deacons, one of whom was Stephen, but his good works got him into trouble and he was tried and found guilty by the council, the Sanhedrin. ‘But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.’ When he told the Sanhedrin what he saw, they stopped their ears, ran upon him, cast him out of the city and stoned him. One of the stoners was called Saul, later to be known as Paul.

Stephen’s feast day is today, Boxing Day, although, it being Sunday, this year Boxing Day is officially tomorrow.  Boxing Day is associated with the giving of alms to the poor and needy and goes back a long way, ye, even unto the Romans, who I don’t usually associate with charitable acts.

Stephen, the first martyr, is generally forgotten now but I got to know his story a year or so ago whilst studying Filippo Lippi’s great fresco cycle at Prato. There on the walls of the main chapel is the life and death of the saint told in pictures, drawn as much from The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine as from Acts chapters 6 – 8. (If you need to get into the medieval mind, especially that of a woman, you should read The Golden Legend and suppress all modern cynicism as you do so).

North wall, main chapel, Santo Stefano, Prato

This week I’m putting the finishing touches to my latest novel, A Gift for the Magus. It feels wonderfully fitting – and unplanned – that this particular book should be completed between the Feast of Stephen and Epiphany. In my mind, Lippi is symbolically linked to Stephen, and Epiphany, when the three wise men came, is linked to Cosimo de’ Medici, the Magus of the title.

The snow remains deep and crisp and even outside,  so it’s a great time to be concentrating on writing. And if I ever wanted a good omen, I had one yesterday when the BBC did a programme on the painting which is central to the novel: Lippi’s Adoration.

So today and until January 6th I think I’ll forget about the persecutors, the stoners, the vile and vicious Sanhedrin, and remember instead Stephen’s theophany: what he saw. Perhaps it’s a bit crass to liken writing to martyrdom, but it follows the same pattern. As a writer you must stay true to your vision, no matter what everyone else says, and keep your eyes fixed on heaven as the stones fly.

3 thoughts on “On the Feast of Stephen

  1. Oh, gosh – The Golden Legend is huge! I was expecting something like a short story. Here’s a passage at random from Stephen’s story that I found interesting:

    “And also he rehearseth another miracle in the same place, that a lady called Petronia had been sick much grievously, and had sought many remedies for to be healed of her malady, but she felt no heal[th]. But in the end she had counsel of a Jew, which gave to her a ring with a stone, and that she should bind this ring with a lace to her bare flesh, and by the virtue of that stone she should be whole. And when she saw that this helped her not, she went to the church of the protomartyr, and prayed the blessed St. Stephen for her health, and anon, without breaking of the lace or of the ring, the ring fell down to the ground, and she felt herself anon all whole.”

    Congratulations on finishing your new novel! It sounds intriguing, and I love the title.

    • Thanks for this, Margaret! Yes, you’d have thought they would have favoured slim volumes when writing with quills on parchment, but not a bit of it.

      I’m sorry to have overlooked your various comments – I’ve only just noticed I have a spam box and that there were some things in it. Don’t ask me why you got spammed – I’ve no idea.

      Happy New Year to you.

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