Feast Day : June 29 (in the West), December 27 or 28 (in the East)
Patronage: bookbinders; bridge builders; clockmakers; fever sufferers; fishermen; against foot trouble; longevity; masons; netmakers; the papacy; shipbuilders; slavery victims; stationers; against wolves
Name meaning: Rock
Also known as: Cephas; Prince of the Apostles; Simon Peter; Simon-Petrus
Peter’s original name was Simon (Symeon). He was given the name Cephas, translated as Peter, by Jesus when the two first met, apparently to differentiate him from St. Simon, another of the apostles From then on, Peter stayed close to Jesus, and Jesus reciprocated by granting him special recognition. When Jesus addressed the disciples collectively, it was Peter who answered for all. It was from Peter’s boat on Lake Genesareth that Jesus preached to the multitude on the shore, and when he walked miraculously on the water, it was Peter whom he called to come to him across the lake. After Peter recognized him as Son of God, Jesus replied that he was blessed, since God must have revealed this to him, as no one could have told him. He added that it was upon the rock of Peter that he would found his church. In spite of his firm faith in Jesus, and Jesus’ in him, Peter had no clear knowledge of his mission and work—or of the dangers they all faced. When Jesus told Peter that he would deny him, Peter protested. However, when Jesus was arrested, Peter fled with the other disciples before turning and following the group carrying Jesus to the high priest. As Jesus had predicted, when he was asked, he denied that he knew him. Yet Jesus later unambiguously confirmed Peter’s position as the head of the apostles and of the Church. The women who were the first to find Jesus’ tomb empty received from an angel a special message for Peter; Jesus appeared on the first day after the Resurrection to Peter alone; and of special significance, when he appeared at Lake Genesareth, he renewed to Peter his special commission to feed and defend his flock. Peter was thenceforth recognized as the head of the original Christian community in Jerusalem. After the descent of the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost, he delivered the first public sermon to proclaim the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, winning a large number of converts. He was the first of the apostles to work a public miracle, when with John he went up into the temple and cured the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, and was the most successful of them. His reputation grew to the point that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and neighboring towns carried their sick in their beds into the streets so that his shadow might fall on them and they might be healed. Peter preached and worked miracles not only in Jerusalem but also in other Christian communities in Palestine. In Lydda, he cured the palsied Eneas; in Joppe, he raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead; and at Caesarea, instructed by a vision he had had in Joppe, he baptized and received into the Church the first non-Jewish converts, the centurion Cornelius and his kinsmen. Peter’s residence in Jerusalem and Palestine was brought to an end when Herod Agrippa I (r. 42–44) began a new persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem. Herod threw Peter and John into prison, intending to have them executed. They were freed in a miraculous manner, and, after informing the faithful and entrusting the Church of Jerusalem to St. James the Less, went into hiding. What we know about Peter comes from the New Testament of the Bible, where his later life is described only sketchily. After (many believe) a first visit to Rome, he traveled around the Middle East. By tradition, he is the founder of the Church of Antioch, and toward the end of his life, he appointed St. Evodius as the first bishop of Antioch. He also made some return visits to Jerusalem, and was there around the year 50 when St. Paul arrived to discuss the touchy issue of circumcision for Christians. Many Jewish converts were insisting on circumcision, although it had not been the practice for non-Jewish converts, who were resisting it. Peter took the position that Jewish practices should not be impressed upon all Christians. His view was endorsed by James the Less, and the council produced an encyclical to this effect. Peter and Paul are credited with founding the Church of Rome, although it is not known whether they lived in the city or only frequented there. It is certain that Peter died in Rome, probably in the year 67. By tradition, he was crucified, most likely in the Neronian Gardens, since it was there that the Emperor Nero carried out his executions. Peter’s body was interred in the vicinity of the Via Cornelia and at the foot of the Vatican Hills. Probably at the start of the Valerian persecution in 258 (on June 28, the feast day for Peter and Paul), his relics were translated to the Appian Way. There they lay for a time with Paul’s relics, in the place where the Church of St. Sebastian now stands. Later Peter’s remains were returned to their former resting place and Emperor Constantine the Great had a magnificent basilica erected over the grave. In the 16th century, this basilica was replaced by the present St. Peter’s. In art, Peter is often depicted along with Paul, the two of them flanking Jesus. Peter is also shown receiving the law—represented by a scroll or keys—from Christ. From the sixth century on, he is shown with a staff or scepter as emblem of his office.