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