St Peter – History

Saint Peter was one of the first twelve apostles chosen by Jesus Christ; the apostles went on to being leaders of the early Christian Church.  Peter was born in Bethsaida, Israel; died in Rome circa 64; is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome; his feast day is 29th June.

Peter was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, married and brother of Saint Andrew, both were called to follow Jesus and be a ‘fisher of man’. Whatever Peter’s life was like before, it was turned upside down by Jesus.   When Jesus called Peter to follow him, he did not hesitate; he left everything and embarked on an incredible journey of discovery.

Originally called Simon, Jesus gave him the Aramaic title of Kepha [John 1:42] meaning ‘rock’, which the Greek equivalent translates to ‘Peter’.  This title was explained when, in reply to Simon’s declaration ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’, Jesus said to him, ’Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’, and bestowed on him ‘the keys of the kingdom of Heaven’.  [Matthew 26: 16-19]

The New Testament gives ample evidence of Peter’s unique position among the apostles; he played a leadership role and was with Jesus during events witnessed by only a few apostles.  Peter showed a character of warmth and impetuosity, promising Jesus that he would do anything for him, even die with him.

The Bible tells of the Last Supper when Jesus was with his apostles and he told Peter that he would deny knowing him three times.   The following day, when it came to just hours before Jesus’ death, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times; he wept bitterly when he realised what he had done.  But, after the resurrection Peter was the first of the apostles to whom Jesus appeared; subsequently the risen Jesus elicited a threefold assurance of his love and Jesus responded ‘Feed my lambs.  Feed my sheep’.  [John 21: 15-19].  This Saint Peter did boldly and faithfully as can be seen in the Acts of the Apostles.  He was the leader of the Christian community; he addressed the crowds at Pentecost; he did miracles in Jesus’ name; he admitted the first Gentile, Cornelius, to baptism; he was imprisoned by Herold Agrippa and escaped through divine intervention (one of these when he was tied in chains hence Ad Vincula); he made missionary and pastoral trips to Samaria and other places.

The Bible says that Peter, fleeing from persecution in Rome, met the risen Jesus on the road and Peter asked, ‘Lord, where are you going?’  Jesus answered, ‘I am coming to be crucified again’ – with this, Peter turned back to Rome to meet his martyrdom.  He was crucified head downwards at his own request as he did not feel he was worthy to be crucified in the same position as Jesus.

The emotional turmoil and turbulent emotions behind Peter’s denial and later repentance have been the subject of major works of art for centuries.  Saint Peter is symbolized in art by two crossed keys.

The ancient Christian churches all venerate Peter as a major saint and associate him with founding the Church of Antioch and later the Church in Rome.

*Some of the above is extracted from Donald Attwater, A Dictionary of Saints