The Death of St. Peter Martyr

St. Peter's Death Cross of St. Peter
saint peter died a Martyr

Crucifixion of St.Peter
Michelangelo - 1546-50
saint peter died a Martyr
on October 13.A.D. 64

Circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Saint Peter are sketchy. The New Testament only records the death of the Apostle James so most other knowledge of the deaths of the other disciples relies on tradition.

After the Ascension of Jesus, Peter became leader of the Apostles.
This is made evident in the Acts of the Apostles.

Saint Peter was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to the gentiles
and gave his support in preaching to them at the Council of Jerusalem. After St. Peter baptized the Roman pagan Cornelius, he was arrested and imprisoned by King Herod Agrippa but he was aided in escape by an angel. Saint Peter's missionary efforts then began to include such pagan cities as Antioch and Cornith. He traveled to Rome later and gave reference to the Eternal City in his first Epistle. Saint Peter is recognized as the Prince of the Apostles and the first Supreme Pontiff.

In research completed through 1963 to 1968 directed by Margherita Guarducci, the death of St. Peter is believed to have occurred on October 13.A.D. 64 during the festivities of the occasion of the 'dies imperii' (regnal day anniversary) of Emperor Nero. This took place three months after the disastrous fire that destroyed the city of Rome. Emperor Nero blamed the fire on the Christians. The 'dies imperii' took placed exactly ten years after Nero acceded the throne and was accompanied by much bloodshed.

The ancient historian Josephus describes ways the Roman soldiers amused themselves by crucifying criminals in different positions. While the position attributed to the crucifixion of Saint Peter is plausible, tradition says St. Peter requested not to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. St. Peter said he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Lord. So the Roman soldiers crucified him upside down.

More gruesome details concerning the martyrdom of Saint Peter have circulated for ages; including that it took Peter three days to die upside down. Death in the ordinary position of crucifixion causes suffocation but one does not suffocate when hanging upside down. There are stories that the soldiers attempted to burn St. Peter crucified on his cross but he did not die. After three days he is said to have been beheaded while hanging upside down.

Clement of Rome, in his Letter to the Corinthians (chap 5) wrote, ""Let us take the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most just pillars of the Church were persecuted, and came even unto death… Peter, through unjust envy, endured not one or two but many labours, and at last, having delivered his testimony, departed unto the place of glory due to him."

The Acts of Peter is also thought of as the source for the famous phrase, "Quo vadis, Domine?' meaning "Whither goest Thou Master?" According to tradition, St. Peter prepared to flee Rome to avoid execution when he was given a vision of Jesus. Jesus responded to the question that he was 'going to Rome to be crucified again'. This caused Peter to return to Rome to accept martyrdom.

The death of St. Peter martyr
is commerated in an Annibale Carracci painting.

St. Peter's place of execution is believed to be in the Neronian Gardens (now located in the Vatican City) where, generally, the gruesome scenes of the Neronian persecutions took place.

As St. Paul was executed on the same day (most likely by beheading) it is believed the two Apostles lay in the same grave for a period of time. Remains of both were said to have been moved to where the Church of St. Sebastian now stands as a means of protecting them during the Valerian persecutions of 258. Both remains were later restored to their former resting places before Constantine the Great erected the Basilica over the grave of St. Peter at the foot of the Vatican Hill. Today, the bones of St. Peter are enshrined beneath the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica.


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