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E00307: According to the Book of Miracles of St Stephen, written in Latin in Uzalis (North Africa) in the 420s, a woman suffering facial paralysis touches with her head the relics of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) in a church in Uzalis, c. 420.

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posted on 17.02.2015, 00:00 by robert
Book of Miracles of St Stephen 2.2.6

This chapter tells a story of a noble woman from Carthage (North Africa) suffering from facial paralysis. Her healing goes through several stages, the final one in Uzalis, at the relics of Stephen.

Duodecimo igitur die ex quo cum sua ad amicum Dei Megetia uenerat matre, dum orat ad locum sacratae memoriae, pulsans fidei pietate, non solum affectu cordis, uerum etiam motu corporis, ipsa ostiola memoriae impulsa patefecit, ac uim faciens regno dei, caput suum interius intromisit, et super cubile sanctarum reliquiarum confixit, lacrimisque suis omnia illic lauit atque rigauit.

'Twelve days after she and her mother had come to the friend of God [i.e. Stephen], Megetia was praying at the place of the holy memoria, and driven by the power of her faith she was knocking, not only by affection of her heart, but also by the movements of her body, and she finally threw open the little door of the memoria against which she had pushed. And doing violence to the kingdom of God, she inserted her head inside and put it on the place of rest of the holy relics, and she rinsed and dampened everything there with her tears.'

Text: Meyers 2006, 326. Translation: Robert Wiśniewski.
Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

Categories

Keywords

History

Evidence ID

E00307

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 - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Touching and kissing relics Reliquary – institutionally owned

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 passage is one of the oldest testimonies of the practice of touching relics, or at least touching their container, based on the belief that relics' miraculous power can be transferred in a physical way. It suggests that the point was not just to achieve close physical contact with the relics, but to touch them with the suffering part of the body. The little door in the memoria (presumably a shrine built over the reliquary itself) was not installed in order to make such practices possible, since the text explicitly states that Megetia did 'violence to the kingdom of God' in forcing its door open; but for the author her gesture was perfectly understandable.

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

Categories

Keywords

Licence

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