Our recent rediscovery of our photos of the Église Saint-Étienne in Lubersac has been very fruitful. Today’s post is about a series about the life of the eponymous patron of the church, Saint Etienne, or Stephen. The exterior is distinguished by three excellent capitals telling the story of his martyrdom – the stoning, the discovery of the body, and the translation of the relics. Stephen is known as the Protomartyr, the first martyr of the Christian church. When he berated the Jewish authorities, he used the strongest language:
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Acts 7:52-53)
For this speech he was stoned to death and his body left unburied for the dogs.
The body was left undisturbed by the animals and on the second night Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher and secretly a disciple of Christ, removed the body and took it to Caphargamala twenty miles east of Jerusalem and buried it in a cave. In 415 Gamaliel appeared three times in a dream to Lucian, the priest at Caphargamala and revealed the exact location of the forgotten grave. When the tomb was opened, the earth trembled, and a sweet-smelling fragrance from the relics of the saint permeated the cave. A multitude of people assembled at the burial-place, including many afflicted with various maladies. Seventy-three recovered their health instantly.
The relics of St. Stephen were then translated to the Church of Zion in Jerusalem. Translation of relics is a solemn rite where relics are moved from one site to another. There is another side to this translation, often involving theft and deceit. One of the most famous examples of this is the removal of the relics of Sainte Foy to Conques in 866. A monk from Conques posed as a loyal monk in Agen for nearly a decade in order to get close enough to the relics to steal them. But the version showing on this capital reveals the ceremony
Our next post will be on the 12th century church of Saint-Étienne in Lubersac, but this trilogy of capitals called for display first!
Location: 45.444185 1.401842