One of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, the Catholic Church’s First Pope, and a fisherman, Saint Peter is an extraordinary example of how an otherwise ordinary man can become such a profound role model for Christians everywhere.
St. Peter was born around 1 AD in the town of Bethsaida (in modern Israel) by the Sea of Galilee. St. Peter’s birth name was “Simon,” and he worked as a fisherman with his brother Andrew before meeting Jesus. St. Peter became one of Jesus’ first apostles after a miracle known as “The Miraculous Catch of Fish.” He had been sitting in his boat and listening to Jesus preach from the shores of the Sea of Galilee. After the sermon, Jesus called to St. Peter on his boat and told him to lower his nets into the water. St. Peter replied saying: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” It is said that St. Peter suddenly felt a great weight in the net, which had been frustratingly light for most of the day. There were 153 fish in his net, such a massive number that he needed help from other boats to drag them all onboard. After this, Jesus told him to give up his job as a fisherman to become a “fisher of men” and invited him to be one of his apostles. This was the start of a great spiritual journey for St. Peter, the man who would eat by Jesus at the Last Supper, defend Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and become the First Pope of the Catholic Church.
St. Peter is most notably the patron saint of fisherman, bridge builders, shipwrights, locksmiths, and bakers. He is often invoked for aid against foot problems, fever, and frenzy. St. Peter’s is also the patron saint for many notable cities, this includes Rome, Saint Petersburg, Cologne, Philadelphia, Leiden, and Chartres, as well as many others. The name “Peter” comes from the ancient Greek name of “Petros,” meaning “rock.” Here are 9 intriguing facts about St. Peter.
#1 Saint Peter Died in 64 AD after Being Crucified Upside Down
St. Peter was crucified and died in 64 AD. In an act of humility and expression of deep respect for Jesus, who was also crucified, the St. Peter said he was unworthy to die as Jesus had died. Instead, he asked to be crucified upside down.
St. Peter’s death was not recorded in the New Testament, but likely took place after The Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. This was a catastrophe that ravaged Rome, claiming many mansions, temples, and houses. Some sources accuse Emperor Nero of starting the fires himself so that he could rebuild Rome to his own tastes and replace his current palace with a larger one. Emperor Nero, however, accused the early Christians of setting the city on fire. In response to these accusations, Christians were persecuted in a whirlwind of bloodshed by Roman authorities, all of whom were looking for someone to blame for the city’s recent tragedy. Roman guards seized St. Peter and dragged him to Vatican Hill where they crucified him.
#2 Saint Peter Was “Canonized” by Jesus
Jesus explicitly told St. Peter that Jesus intended to use St. Peter as the foundation for Jesus’ Church. By any standard, this should qualify St. Peter for Sainthood, though Jesus did not call St. Peter (or anyone perhaps) a “saint.” It is difficult to argue that one would need a higher authority than the Son of Man Himself to determine who is truly “holy.”
One of the earliest references to St. Peter being a “saint” is in connection with the Cave Church of St. Peter, Turkey. This is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, with the oldest parts estimated to be as old as 300 AD. This church is likely to have been located inside a cave to help hide Christians from persecution.
St. Peter was never formally canonized, as he lived in a time called “pre-congregation,” which was before the creation of today’s formal process of canonization where the Catholic Church decides whether someone is worthy of universal veneration.
#3 Saint Peter’s Veneration Is of the Rock on Which Jesus Built His Church and of the Catholic Church’s First Pope
St. Peter’s authority as the First Pope is taken from the book of Matthew in the Bible where Jesus tells St. Peter that: “That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church.” Some note that in the ancient Greek language, this is a pun, because the name “Peter” in Greek is “Petros,” which means “rock.” Translated into Greek, the statement is: “Thou art Rock, and upon this rock will I build my church.” Jesus spoke Aramaic, and originally gave Peter the Aramaic name Cephas, which means “stone.” When the Bible was first translated from Hebrew (and some parts from Aramaic), it was translated into Greek, which is when Cephas was translated to Petros.
The authority of St. Peter’s role in the Catholic Church is reinforced through the Nicene Creed, which is a statement of belief. The line which declares “We believe in one Holy and Apostolic Church” references the fact that the Church’s structure and teachings are inherited directly from the Apostles. This means that following the Pope’s authority comes directly from the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter.
#4 Saint Peter’s Symbols and Iconography Include the Keys to Heaven, a Rooster, and a Boat
St. Peter is portrayed as a pope, dying on a cross upside down, with keys, as a fisherman or with fish or a boat, with a severed ear, and with a rooster.
From the 4th century, St. Peter has consistently been shown with a full head of hair and a beard. As early as the 6th century, St. Peter has been portrayed as holding the Keys of Heaven because, in the book of Mark in the Bible, Jesus told St. Peter that “I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
Relating to his past as a fisherman, a boat or symbol of a fish is often associated with St. Peter in Christian iconography.
According to the book of John in the Bible, when the high priests and the Roman authorities came to the Garden of Gethsemane, led by Judas, St. Peter stepped in to protect Jesus. He cut off the ear of a high priest’s servant, which Jesus then healed. Representing this incident before Jesus’ arrest, the servant’s severed ear, or Peter cutting off the ear, is often painted into images of St. Peter.
A rooster is also used as a symbol of St. Peter in reference to an incident just before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus prophesied to St. Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane that “before the cock crows three times” St. Peter would deny knowing Jesus. This is exactly what happened, and St. Peter said “I do not know this man.”
As the First Pope, he is often depicted wearing Papal Vestments. He is also sometimes shown wearing a red robe, which is a traditional symbol of martyrdom.
An upside-down cross is also a symbol of St. Peter, remembering St. Peter’s method of execution in 64 AD.
#5 Saint Peter’s Main Feast Day Celebration Is on June 29th
St. Peter and St. Paul share their main feast days of June 29, even though they were martyred on different days. They are celebrated together because their contributions to the Church in its early stages were interlinked and crucial. Where Catholicism recognizes St. Peter as the First Pope, Saint Paul is credited with helping to define Christianity for the gentiles. The other feast days of St. Peter are January 18 (Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome), March 19 (Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch), August 1 (St. Peter in Chains) and November 18 (Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul).
#6 Saint Peter’s Remains Are Mostly in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Many of the bones of St. Peter are in St. Peter’s Tomb, located under St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. An excavation in the 1960s revealed the bones to have belonged to a man from the 1st century, of about 61 years of age. This fits the profile of St. Peter, and Pope Paul VI in 1968 announced that they likely belonged to him. The feet are missing and are likely to have been cut off by the Roman guards when they were taking down St. Peter’s deceased body from the cross after his crucifixion.
On June 29, 2019, Pope Francis gifted nine of the bone fragments of St. Peter to the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Church of Constantinople. This church was founded by St. Peter’s brother, St. Andrew, and the Pope said he gifted the relics to encourage Christian unity.
#7 The Location of Saint Peter’s Major Shrine Is in Vatican City
The most famous shrine to St. Peter lies in the heart of Vatican City. Consecrated in 1626, St. Peter’s Basilica is an astounding architectural achievement. The North and South Colonnades are lined with 10-foot statues of the Church’s most inspiring saints and stand upon a grand and curved stone structure, resembling arms preparing to embrace the physical center of the Roman Catholic Church and St. Peter’s Square.
The Basilica’s interior is equally as impressive and vast. The Pillars of St. Peter’s Baldachin, which stands over the Basilica’s high altar, is also an intensely elaborate affair, as are the many beautiful Chapels within the Basilica, dedicated to saints and often housing the remains of deceased Popes. An example of this is the Altar of Saint Jerome housing the remains of the Blessed Pope John XXIII.
#8 Saint Peter is one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ
The Twelve Apostles were the main followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter is usually listed first, out of the twelve. The others are James; John; Andrew; Bartholomew or Nathanael; James, the Lesser or Younger; Judas; Jude or Thaddeus; Matthew or Levi; Philip; Simon the Zealot; and Thomas. The most famous popular representation of them is in Da Vinci’s 1490 painting of “The Last Supper.” They were sent out after Jesus’ ascension into heaven to spread the “Good News” and continue missionary work promoting Jesus’ teachings.
After Pentecost, it is said that they began to speak in foreign tongues and spread the message of the Lord globally because of this, regardless of whether the nations had populations of gentile or Jew. An “episcopal see,” which is the area which is the jurisdiction of a certain bishop, founded in close association with one or more of Jesus’s apostles is known as an “apostolic see.”
#9 Islam Recognizes Saint Peter in the Quran
The Quran recognizes Jesus’ disciples and states they were believers in Allah. Stories about Peter are included in Muslim tradition and tafsir, which is the text that explains the Quran. Peter is important in Shia Islam and is recognized as the first Imam (Leader) after Jesus by Shia theology.
St. Peter was an unlikely candidate to become one of the most important saints in the Roman Catholic Church. Recall his humble beginning as a poor fisherman and how he denied knowing Jesus three separate times. He still became the Church’s foundational figure and is a reminder that we too, no matter our beginnings, can live an impactful life of holiness.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.