“When they had driven [Stephen] out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” ~ Acts 7:58-60
“The impression made by Stephen's death was even greater than that made by his life. Though it marks the beginning of the first great persecution of Christians, the death of the first Christian martyr resulted in the greatest acquisition Christianity has probably ever made, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The vision of the risen and exalted Jesus vouchsafed to the dying Stephen presented Christianity to Saul of Tarsus in a new light, tending to remove what had been its greatest stumbling-block to him in the Crucified One. This revelation coupled with the splendid personality of Stephen, the testimony of his righteous life and the noble bravery of his sublime death, and above all his dying prayer, fell upon the honest soul of Saul with an irresistible force and inevitably brought on the Damascus event, as Augustine clearly recognized: ‘Si Stephanus non orasset, ecclesia Paulum non habuisset.’”
Research in the Kharaba at Taiar village, which lies two kilometers west of Ramallah, carried out by the Palestinian and Israeli researchers have yielded unexpected results. Within the framework of a project by the University of Jerusalem for the discovery and restoration of antiquities, a group of archaeologists led by Dr. Salah al Hudeliyya has discovered ruins of an entire church complex that includes a temple of the Byzantine-Umayyad era as well as a Byzantine monastery.
“Inside one of these churches we came across an inscription which indicates that this church had been built in honor of Holy Apostle and Archdeacon Stephen the Protomartyr, buried here in 35 AD,” the historian related.
“In this church, an inscription has been found that is 88 centimeters wide and and one meter high, consisting of eight lines and with an inscription in Greek, which speaks about the body of St. Stephen and says that he was buried here. This place is known as “Khirbet al Tireh” and also as “Kafr Ghamla,” and “Ghamla” is St. Stephen’s spiritual guide. The other part of the inscription speaks about a woman named Dina, who would have invested money in this church in order to honor Jesus’ visit to this place, when Joseph and Mary, his mother, could not find him, during their trip from Jerusalem and Nazareth that lasted three days. He likely passed through this place on one of those three days.”
The Orthodox church teaches that his bones were translated to Constantinople. According to the Orthodox Church in America website in an article entitled “Stephen from Jerusalem to Constantinople”:
In the year 415 the relics of the saint were uncovered in a miraculous manner and solemnly transferred to Jerusalem by Bishop John and the bishops Eutonius of Sebaste and Eleutherius of Jericho. From that time healings took place from the relics. Afterwards, during the reign of holy Emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450), the relics of the holy Protomartyr Stephen were transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople and placed in the church of the holy deacon Laurence (August 10). When a church dedicated to the Protomartyr Stephen was built, the relics were transferred there on August 2. St Stephen’s right hand is preserved in the Serapionov chamber of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra.
After St. Stephen, the first martyr, had been stoned to death by the Jews for having incontestably proved that Christ, Whom they had crucified, was the true Messiah, some pious men, filled with deep sorrow, buried him with all due reverence. Foremost among these was Gamaliel, who had formerly been a teacher, and later a disciple of St. Paul. He arranged everything so that the body of St. Stephen was carried, during the night, by some Christians, from the spot in which it lay, to his country-seat, which was a few miles from Jerusalem.
The project began in 2013 as the collaboration between the University of Jerusalem and the Greek Orthodox church. After the excavations, a phase of awareness and fundraising phase has begun. The goal is to enhance this new acquisition in the Palestinian archeological heritage and make it accessible to all in the future by including it in the Holy Land pilgrimage circuits.
“The main purpose of this project is to create awareness among all Palestinians on the importance of Palestinian cultural heritage. In addition, we would like to create an archeological park, which probably open in 2020.”
The tomb of the first Christian martyr may have been located in an excavation just west of Ramallah. An Orthodox church news service recently reported that a church complex excavation revealed an inscription indicating that the church had been built over the burial site of St. Stephen, who was interred there in 35 AD. However, the lack of news of this discovery from other sources raises questions that bear further investigation.