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E00165: According to the Book of Miracles of St Stephen, written in Latin in Uzalis (North Africa) in the 420s, the arrival of relics of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) at Uzalis in c.418 is preceded by a vision in which a pious women is assured of their veracity.

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posted on 2014-11-10, 00:00 authored by robert
Book of Miracles of St Stephen 1.1

Cum igitur adhuc nullus saltem rumor esse potuisset, quo ad nos indignos Domini sancti Stephani, in martyrio primi confessoris Christi, reliquiae uenturae essent (non enim hoc fieri posse aut in cogitatione habebamus, aut suspicari poteramus): ecce ex anteriori tempore coepit idem gloriosus quibusdam apud nos sanctis animis se ipsum reuelare. Nam cum quodam loco uel die sermo supradictarum reliquiarum ab his seruis Dei fieret, qui easdem sibimet de Orientis partibus missas nobis nescientibus habebant, adfuit in sermone quaedam etiam mulier, sacra famula Dei; quae ubi hoc audiuit, ut euenire assolet non facile credidit, et apud semetipsam tacite dicere coepit: "Et quis scit si uere martyrum sunt reliquiae?" Statim autem sequenti nocte per somnium ampulla quaedam eidem demonstratur intra se habens sanguinis quamdam aspersionem et aristarum quasi ossium significationem: quam presbyter quidam manu tenens germano eius monacho illa praesente locutus est dicens: "Vis scire quomodo martyrum probentur reliquiae?" Quo dicto ampullam eius ori iniecit, et mox flamma ignis per aures eius atque oculos euomi coepit. Hoc quomodo res ipsa manifestata sit dignanter accipite. Ampullam sicut oculis suis uidit ancillla Dei in somnii reuelatione, sic inter manus suas accepit postea sacerdos Dei in ipsius rei manifestatione.

'Even before any rumour could start that the relics of St Stephen, the first witness of Christ in martyrdom, were about to arrive with us the unworthy (for we could neither think this could happen, nor suspect it), Lo, the glorious [Stephen] had started to reveal himself to certain saintly souls among us. Now, one day in a certain place the servants of God who had with them these relics sent from the East (which we were as yet unaware of) were talking about them. And a woman, a holy servant of God, entered in the middle of their conversation. When she heard it, as usually happens she was not ready to believe, but started to talk silently to herself: "And who knows whether these are really the relics of martyrs?". And without any delay, the following night, a glass flask (ampulla) was shown to her in a dream, containing a certain sprinkling of blood and something that looked like slivers, as if of bone (aristarum quasi ossium significationem). A presbyter who was holding it in his hand was talking to a monk, his brother, and said in her presence: "Do you want to know how the relics of martyrs are verified?". This said he put the ampulla into his mouth, and immediately flames of fire began to spring from his ears and eyes. Now, listen trustfully how the truth became manifest. For later it was revealed by the fact that the bishop of God [in Uzalis] took in his hands an ampulla just like the one which the servant of God had seen in her dream-vision.'

Text: Meyers 2006, 268, 270. Translation: Robert Wiśniewski.

History

Evidence ID

E00165

Saint Name

Stephen the First Martyr : S00030

Saint Name in Source

Stephanus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles

Language

  • Latin

Evidence not before

418

Evidence not after

430

Activity not before

418

Activity not after

430

Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Uzalis

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Uzalis Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of specific relics

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - blood Bodily relic - bones and teeth Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Reliquary – institutionally owned Public display of relics Touching and kissing relics

Source

The Book of the Miracles of St Stephen was written in Uzalis (North Africa) some time after some relics of Stephen, whose grave was discovered in Caphargamala (Palestine) in 415 (see $E###), arrived in Africa (most probably via Minorca) around 417. A long list of miracles suggests that some time had elapsed since this event when the Book of Miracles was written; on the other hand, the absence of any mention of the Vandals suggests that the text was composed before 429, when Africa was invaded. The book was written by an anonymous author, but was probably commissioned by Evodius, bishop of Uzalis and former pupil of Augustine. The book (actually two books) is based on a collection of libelli or testimonia of those who were healed thanks to the power of Stephen's relics. This is the earliest text of this kind that we know about - the next one in time is the collection of the miracles which took place in the sanctuary of *Thecla in Seleucia (see $E###). The idea of writing down the testimony of those who experienced healing was perhaps formulated for the first time by Augustine. He took care to collect such testimonies in Hippo (North Africa), which also possessed some relics of Stephen, and quoted them in his sermons and in Book 22 of the City of God (see $E01109, $E01111, $E01116, $E01117, $E01118, $E01119, $E01120, $E01125, $E01135, $E01988; more?). The libelli of the healed were also collected in Calama, another north African city of which the bishopric was also held by a pupil of Augustine, Possidius, and in which some relics of Stephen were deposited around 420 (see $E01125). None of these collections, however, is extant.

Discussion

This text tells of the arrival of relics of Stephen at Uzalis, though is unclear who brought them and from where. However, the following chapter of the Book of Miracles (see E###) says that the relics arrived in Uzalis together with a letter from Severus, bishop of Minorca (E###), which suggests that it was he who sent them to Africa. The two brothers mentioned in the text, a presbyter and a monk, are somehow involved in the transfer of the relics, but their precise role is not explained. We know that the relics sent from Palestine (E###) were carried to Minorca by Orosius (see E###), who was a presbyter, but it is not known whether he is the presbyter referred to in our story. The passage also bears witness to the nature of the relic which was brought to Uzalis. It was a glass flask whose contents, seemingly blood and splinters of bones, were perfectly visible. It is true that the author presents them as seen in a dream vision, but his argument about the veracity of the relics is constructed upon the identity of the ampulla seen in a dream and the ampulla brought to Uzalis. Such ampullas are known from archaeological evidence, also from Africa (see E###). It is difficult to say if the remark about doubts concerning the authenticity of these relics reflects a serious disagreement on this issue in the church of Calama. There is no further evidence for this.

Bibliography

Edition, French translation, and collection of studies: Meyers, J. (ed.), Les miracles de saint Etienne: Recherches sur le recueil pseudo-augustinien (BHL 7860-7861) (Hagiologia 5; Turnhout: Brepols, 2006).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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