By Anne Leader

29 June is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome who were both martyred in the Eternal City. 

Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, is also honored in the Catholic Church as its first pope, based on Jesus’ declaration that he was the “rock” on which he would build his church (Mt. 16:18). According to tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome on the Janiculum Hill during the reign of Nero. He requested to be crucified upside down, believing himself to be unworthy of martyrdom in the same manner as Jesus. His tomb lies under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Paul, born Saul of Tarsus, began his life as a persecutor of Christians in the area around Jerusalem. According to the book of Acts, while on the road to Damascus he had a vision of the Resurrected Jesus, who in a blinding flash of light asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” His sight restored three days later by Ananias, Paul devoted the rest of his life to preaching the gospel, founding several churches to which he wrote letters (epistles) that now form part of the New Testament. Paul is also believed to have been martyred under Nero, as recounted by various ancient authors including Ignatius, Eusebius, and Tertullian.

Pacino di Bonaguida, Martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul, Laudario of the Compagnia di Sant’Agnese, 1320s, tempera and gold on parchment. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum

Caravaggio, Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul, 1600-1, oil on canvas. Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

Correggio, Apostles Peter and Paul, 1520-24, fresco (detail). Parma, San Giovanni Evangelista, cupola

Francesco del Cossa, St. Peter, 1473, oil on panel. Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Bartolomeo Montagna, St. Paul, 1482, panel. Milan: Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Arnolfo di Cambio, The Statue of Saint Peter, c. 1300, bronze. Vatican: Treasury of San Pietro

Filippino Lippi, St Paul Visits St Peter in Prison, 1481-82, fresco. Florence, Santa Maria del Carmine, Cappella Brancacci

Michelangelo, Martyrdom of St Peter and Conversion of St. Paul, 1546-50, fresco, Vatican, Palazzi Pontifici, Cappella Paolina

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