PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Bernardo DADDI; 1324; fresco; Santa Croce, Florence

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A man prays on his knees while other men throw stones at him. Stephen is lapidated by the opponents of the first Christians.

The picture is composed of two parts; on the left, Stephen appears before a judge; on the right Stephen is stoned.

Stephen is a young man; he wears a clerical dress and he has a tonsure.

He is surrounded by men who are few here; they cast stones at him; it is a mode of punishment provided for blasphemies and Stephen has just been condemned to death by the Jewish tribunal of the Sanhedrin.

The character on the left who watches without casting stones is Saul, the future apostle Paul.



Stephen is a deacon; that is to say he is in charge of the management of the goods of the budding Christian community and, in particular, the care of the poor.

But as deaconate, centuries later, became a degree in the clergy, just before priesthood, the deacon wears a specific liturgical garment called a dalmatic; that is why Stephen is often portrayed in this costume with his head tonsured. But he may also have been stripped of his clothes that have been put in a corner or shared like those of Christ on Calvary.

Stephen looks at the heaven where one can often see the Trinity, Jesus Christ, God the Father and the dove of the Holy Ghost, ready to welcome him.

Those who stone him are often clad as soldiers. In a corner, a man watches the scene; he is young or bald with a beard, Saul’s characteristic feature, the future Paul of Tarsus. He is then quite opposed to Christians and takes part to this first persecution of 34 AD.





The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Bernardo DADDI; 1324; fresco; Santa Croce, Florence

Web Gallery of Art



The Act of the Apostles, chapter 7

The deacon Stephen is accused of planning to destroy the Temple and the Law of Moses. In front of the tribunal, he goes back over the history of the people of Israel since Abraham and concludes:

Which of the prophets have your fathers not persecuted? and they have slain those who shewed before the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers

These words put them in a rage which grows when Stephen tells them he has seen “the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”…

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit

And Saul was consenting to his death. (The Acts of the Apostles 7:52-59 + 8:1)



Stephen is not killed for his act but for his faith in Jesus Christ; he a martyr or witness.








The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Bernardo DADDI; 1324; fresco; Santa Croce, Florence

Web Gallery of Art


Two representations in different contexts: Stephen is stoned by Renaissance mercenaries or fierce Turks; in both cases, St Paul is absent.


The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Lorenzo LOTTO; 1516; oil on wood; Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy.

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The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Vittore CARPACCIO; 1520; tempera on canvas; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany

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Saul-Paul is quite present; he is recognisable by his bald skull and his beard. God is discreet, only present by his light.


The Stoning of St Stephen; Paolo UCELLO; 1435; fresco; Duomo, Prato, Italy.

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The Expulsion and Stoning of St Stephen; Fra ANGELICO; 1447-49; fresco; Cappella Niccolina, Vatican

Mark Harden's Artchive


In the art of the Catholic Reformation, the heaven and the earth are in direct relation.


The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Annibale CARRACCI; 1604-05; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

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The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Peter Paul RUBENS; 1616-17; oil on canvas; Musée des Beaux Arts, Valenciennes, France.

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The Martyrdom of St Stephen; Bernardo DADDI; 1324; fresco; Santa Croce, Florence

Web Gallery of Art




Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew and his Greek name Sephanos means “crown”.

From then on, martyrs have worn crowns. This latter attribute is a sign of triumph (See Entry into Jerusalem) and the image of the Just man according to Psalm 92:12 “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.


The Martyr

Stephen is the first Christian martyr. the name comes from the Greek verb “to testify as a witness”. He is the one who testifies to the death and resurrection of Christ but the word is reserved for those who have died for their faith.

Originally reserved for Christians, the name of martyr has been extended to other religions and is now applied to those who suffer for a just cause, whether religious or political, but the name should be reserved for those who are the victims of violence without being themselves its agents.





BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008