Santo Stefano statue

On this day: Santo Stefano

Culture News

26th December is the Feast of Santo Stefano in Italy. A Bank Holiday, it is a day for relaxing with family and visiting nativities.

In some places, St Stephen’s feast day is traditionally a day for many Italians to visit the Nativity scenes at the churches. It is also traditional to visit loved ones and friends that you didn’t see the day before to take presents and gifts of food. Lunch is a less formal affair but still consists of several courses. Each area of Italy will have its own specialities.

The Sicilian town of Ragusa stages an annual presepe vivente (live nativity scene) which attracts many visitors. Other events on St Stephen’s Day in different parts of Italy include markets, carnivals and festivals.

Who was Santo Stefano?

The day remembers Santo Stefano, traditionally thought of as the first Christian martyr, who lived during the first century  BC.

He was one of seven Christian deacons in Jerusalem. His defence of his faith before the rabbinic court enraged his Jewish audience. He was taken out of the city and stoned to death. His final words, a prayer of forgiveness for his attackers, echo those of Jesus on the cross. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons and stonemasons.

Commemorative places

Places in Italy that commemorate the saint include:

Rome – Santo Stefano Rotondo, a church built under the commission of Constantine I on the ruins of the Caelian Hill of Rome. Built in the 5th Century, it is the first church in Rome to have a circular floor plan, instead of the traditional cross designs.

Santo Stefano Rotondo
Santo Stefano Rotondo

San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, where Saint Stephen is said to be interred together with Saint Lawrence in the crypt, under the high altar.

Santo Stefano degli Abissini, Coptic Christian church in Vatican City, that is also the National Church of Ethiopia in Rome.

Rome – Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura, a side chapel to St. Stephen is about a stone’s throw from the tomb of St. Paul.

Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore, Milan, a baroque church built in the fifth century and originally dedicated to both Saint Stephen and Saint Zecheriah.

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