St. Stephen’s Gate, also known as the “Lion’s Gate,” is one of seven open Gates in Jerusalem’s Old City Walls. This gate is located on the Eastern Wall. It is It is called “St. Stephen’s Gate” because of the tradition that Stephen, the first martyr of the church (Acts 6-7), was stoned to death at this location just outside the city walls.
In Acts 7, Luke records Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin (the ruling council overseen by the High Priest), as well as the response:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, . . . you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:51-60).
Murphy-O’Connor notes, “The current Hebrew name, ‘Lions’ Gate’, is due to a mistake. The pairs of animals are in fact panthers, the heraldic emblem of the Mamluk sultan Baybars (1260–77), which Suliman’s architects set on either side of the gate to celebrate the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517” (The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford Archaeological Guides, p.21).
I previously posted on this gate here.
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The gates of Jerusalem have such complicated histories! As you note, this is the traditional spot of Stephen’s martyrdom. An earlier tradition locates Stephen’s stoning near the Damascus Gate beyond the northern wall. A Byzantine church and monastery were built on the site, and today St. Stephen’s Basilica next to the Ecole Biblique marks the location. In Arabic, this gate is Bab sitt Miriam since Muslim tradition records that Mary (Jesus’ mother) was born in the gatehouse!
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