Jaume Serra: Altarpiece of Saint Stephen (1385)


(Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain)

A nice painting by the Spanish artist Jaume Serre(.. - after 1405). This altarpiece was commissioned for the monastery of Santa Maria de Gualter in western Catalonia and is dedicated to saint Stephen, the or first martyr (= Protomartyr) of Christianity. The saint himself is depicted in the center with two kneeling donors at his feet with a depictions of the crucifixion of Christ at the top. Left and right are depictions of various events from the life of the saint:

Left side, top: saint Stephen as a member of one of first ordained deacons of the Church. These deacons were appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community.

Left side, Middle: The speech of saint Stephen to the Sanhedrin. Stephen activities as a deacon and his popularity created enemies who accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moses and God. The saint was taken to the Sanhedrin (a court which dealt with religious matters) to defend his case. During his trail Stephen delivered an eloquent speech regarding his view of the history of Israel (Acts of the Apostles 7) and accused the people and the members Sanhedrin of being 'stiff-necked" people'.

Left side, Bottom: the stoning of saint Stephen. After his speech to the Sanhedrin Stephen was taken by the crowd and stoned to death at an unknown location. The man. The man sitting who is sitting on a hill on the cloaks of the executioners is a Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as saint Paul the Apostle.

Right side, top: The burial of saint Stephen at an unknown location outside of of Jerusalem.

Right side, Middle: for me an unknown episode - apparently the liberation of a prisoner by saint Stephen

Right side, Bottom: the rediscovery of the body of saint Stephen. In A.D. 415 a priest named Lucian had a dream that revealed the location of Stephen's remains which were thereafter taken to the Church of Hagia Sion in Jerusalem. Over the years the body was moved several times to different churches with several parts ending up in different churches.

Painting from 1385.

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