Which Way to St. Stephen’s Gate?

Getting directions in Jerusalem can be confusing. So many place names are similar, and the same place can be known by many names. This is especially true of the gates of the Old City which have many different names. Whether you are looking for Jaffa Gate, David’s Gate, The Beloved’s (Abraham’s) Gate or Hebron Gate you will end up in the same place.

There is one address which actually applies to TWO Gates – St. Stephen’s Gate. According to Christian tradition, Stephen was a Hellenized Jew (thus the Greek name – Stephanus) living in Jerusalem. He got involved in social affairs when it was felt that the rabbinic authorities were not fairly allocating tax monies set aside for widows. The group which was spear-heading this protest movement were also supporters of Jesus. Because of his involvement against the rabbis, he was accused of blasphemy and brought before the Sanhedrin – the rabbinic court. He was sentenced to death, driven out of Jerusalem and stoned outside of the city of Jerusalem, making Stephen the first Christian martyr. This is the moment you realize that Monty Python actually did their homework.

st. stephen's stoning

Here’s where the tricky part comes. In which direction was Stephen driven out of the city?

According to an early Byzantine tradition, he was taken out of the city to the north and stoned at the current location of Saint-Etienne, a modern Catholic church close to the Damascus Gate which was built over a 5th century Byzantine church.

A later, 12th century, Crusader tradition places the stoning to the east outside of the Lion’s Gate, much closer to the location of the court and better fitting with the account in Acts, but with no tradition associated with it. When the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy started building a church in this spot dedicated to St. Stephen, they even found an ancient lintel dedicated to St. Stephen which was buried near the foundations. Unfortunately, that dedication was later shown to have been planted to create facts on the ground – literally – and was actually from Beer Sheva where there had been several Byzantine churches, one dedicated to St. Stephen.

As a result of these 2 traditions, some Christians refer to either the Damascus Gate or the Lion’s Gate as “St. Stephen’s Gate”. Because Jerusalem is not confusing enough. So if someone wants to meet you at St. Stephen’s Gate, make sure to ask, “Which one?”

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One thought on “Which Way to St. Stephen’s Gate?

  1. Pingback: Hole in the Wall | Israel by Leiah

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