Though featured only in a couple of chapters in the book of Acts, Stephene is one of the most important figures in the New Testament. He is notable for being the first Christian martyr, or protomartyr.
Today, he is venerated as a saint and recognized as the patron of bricklayers and stonemasons.
Here’s everything you need to know about St. Stephen and why he is associated with bricklayers among other groups of people.
What You'll Learn Today
Who Is Stephen In The Bible?
The story of Stephen starts in Acts chapter 6 where is selected as a deacon (along with six other men) to help distribute food among the first christians. Because he was the eldest among those selected, he is usually referred to as an archdeacon.
There had been complaints that Greek-influenced Hellenistic jews (of which Stephen was likely a part of) were being stiffed out of their daily food rations in favor of the more traditional Hebraic Jews.
So 7 deacons were selected to take over the work of distributing food. This allowed the 12 apostles to focus on prayer and building the church.
Acts 6:5 They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
It seems that Stephen’s role in the early church did not stop at ensuring fair food rationing. Like the epistles, he also did his part preaching and spreading the gospel. He even performed miracles Here’s verse 8 of the same chapter.
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Stephen often spoke passionately against the temple, which angered the Jews, specifically Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. They also don’t like how he bests them in debate.
They filed false accusations of blasphemy against him and had Stephen brought before the tribunal (called the Sanhedrin).
There Stephen launches into a detailed narration of the history of Israel starting from God’s promises to Abraham.
Stephen accuses the Jews of being stiff-necked and resisting the Holy Spirit. He specifically castigates their cultic belief in a physical temple.
Acts 7:48 However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.
He goes on to quote Isaiah 66:1.
This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
This angers the Jews but what really pushes them over the edge is when Stephen claims to have a vision of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.
At this, they drag him out and stone him to death. Thus, Stephen became the first martyr. In fact, after this, there was intense persecution of Christians in which Saul (later Paul the epistle) participated.
Interestingly, Saul was also there when they stoned Stephen.
Acts 7:58 Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Why Is St. Stephen The Patron Saint Of Bricklayers?
While he is associated with several patronages, St. Stephen is most famous for being the patron saint of bricklayers and stonemasons.
I could not find a clear explanation for this title or how it came about.
The most likely explanation for why Stephen is the saint of bricklayers is his manner of death. People used stones to kill him, thus the association with people who work with stones.
But instead of destroying, bricklayers and stonemasons use the stones for good – to create and build.
Other Patronages Associated With St. Stephen
St. Stephen is the patron saint of altar servers along with St. Jason, St. John Berchmans, and St. Nicholas.
He is also the patron saint of casket makers, deacons (because of his role as the first deacon) and, interestingly, the patron saint of headaches.
He is also the saint for various regions in the world including Kessel in Belgium, Cetona in Italy, Prato in Italy and Passau in Germany.
St. Stephen Symbols
Photos, artworks and depictions of St. Stephen include certain symbols related to his life, his work as a deacon and his death.
The most common symbols are stones. He is shown either carrying them or with three stones around his head.
This is a symbol of how he died and celebrates Stephen as the first martyr.
You’ll also often see him holding a palm frond in one hand. This is called the martyr’s palm frond and has been used for centuries to identify martyrs in art pieces.
The palm frond is typically shown along with a crown on the head. Both are symbols of victory over sin and death.
Another common depiction of St. Stephen is him holding a miniature church building in one of his hands. This likely symbolizes his role in building the early church.
Other symbols associated with St. Stephen include an incense burner, a deacon’s tunic (called a dalmatic), and a red banner.
How To Pray to St. Stephen?
Anyone, bricklayer or not, can pray to St. Stephen and ask him to intercede for you.
Prayers to St. Stephen are particularly helpful when you need the strength and faith to endure challenges in life. After all, Stephen courageously faced down the Jews and stood firm in his faith even if it led to his death.
Use whichever words you find suitable or find a prayer or Novena to St. Stephen like this one by Pope Benedict XVI.
When Is St. Stephen’s Feast Day?
In Western Catholic churches, St. Stephen’s feast day is celebrated on 26 December. It’s an official public holiday in several countries including Italy, Norway and Poland.
In the US, it’s not a major celebration. There are usually no processions or special masses. Christians honor the day by remembering the martyrism and heroism of Stephen.
Did you like the article? Please leave a comment below if you did. And if you’re looking for more stories about Catholic saints, read this one about St. Jude.