“Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.”
Considering that he was the very first Christian martyr and considering that most of us will be sitting down to mark his festival in a few days time, St Stephen has terrible P.R. Try googling “St Stephen’s Road” into “Streetmap U.K” and the result is zero - and the same goes for St Stephen’s Street, Lane, Terrace, Grove and Walk. (In the name of completeness I should add that there is one lonely reference to a St Stephen’s Hill between Stafford and Burton on Trent.) Those of us who live in St. Margarets should count ourselves lucky that we enjoy with St Stephen’s Church and St Stephen’s School two firm references to this half forgotten saint.
St Stephen was born about 36AD, a Greek speaking Jew and a “man full of faith and power”. He was also a zealous preacher and did “great wonders and miracles” and for this he was denounced to the Jewish Council in Jerusalem as a blasphemer. Stephen freely admitted his change in faith and called his accusers “stiff-necked men who resisted the Holy Spirit as their fathers had done!” He also charged them with the execution of “the Holy One”. Looking upwards he said “Behold! I see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this he was dragged out of the city and stoned to death. As he was dying Stephen cried “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and then “Lay not this sin to their charge.” Watching the proceedings with apparent approval was a young man from Tarsus called Saul who in later years became St Paul the Apostle.
Although Stephen is now largely forgotten we do mark his feast day on December 26th - Boxing Day - when it was thought appropriate to eat “St Stephen’s Day Pie” - a dish similar to cottage pie but using turkey and ham rather than beef. Another popular dish at this time of the year was “Christmas Pye” - the forerunner of our familiar Christmas pudding. The French traveller and writer M. Misson was a great fan…
“It is a great nostrum the composition of this pastry; it is a most learned mixture of neats-tongues, chicken, eggs, sugar, raisins, lemon and orange peel, various kinds of spicery etc”, he wrote, adding “Blessed be he that invented pudding for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sortes of people”.
Let’s drink to that… in moderation!
|Good King Wenceslas was St Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia (907-935), known in the Czech language as Svatý Václav.|
– from Martyn Day