St Peter, the leader of the Apostles, was martyred in Rome in around 64 AD. Originally he was called Simon, but Jesus gave him the Aramaic title Kepha, meaning ‘Rock’ (John 1:42). The Greek equivalent of this is ‘Peter’ in English. (1) According to tradition Peter asked to be crucified with his head downwards as he believed he was not worthy to suffer in the same way as his Lord and Master. (2)
St Paul was also martyred in Rome. He was beheaded because his dignity as a Roman citizen did not permit crucifixion. For centuries the Church has marked a joint feast day for St Peter and St Paul on 29 June. (3) The liturgical colour is red symbolising the blood of martyrs.
Images of St Peter in the catacombs, whether painted or worked in mosaic or engraved in silver or bronze, all show a full, strong face, with curly hair and a short beard. St Paul is depicted as having a thin face, with a long pointed beard and a slightly bald head. (4)
1. Attwater, D. (1965) The Penguin Dictionary of the Saints, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
2. Butler, A. (1936) (edited by Kelly, B.) The lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints Vol II, London, Dublin and Belfast: Virtue and Company Limited.
3. Butler, A. (1936) The lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints Vol II, London, Dublin and Belfast: Virtue and Company Limited.
4. Henderson, A. (1920) The lesson of the catacombs, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.