After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and gave him the mission to feed the lambs and the sheep of Christ’s flock. In the early days of the Church, as we can read in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter took the lead in deciding what needed to be done. He arranged for someone to take the place of Judas among the apostles; he preached at Pentecost and worked miracles in the name of Jesus. When faced with the Council of the Jews, Peter was the one who justified the teaching about Jesus which was the daily work of the apostles.
We can read the Letters of Peter in the New Testament. The second one was probably composed after his death. Peter’s presence in Rome is recorded by many witnesses such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus, who indicate that Peter was the leader of the Church in Rome and he suffered martyrdom there. He was killed along with many other Christians in the circus which was situated beside the hill on which St Peter’s basilica stands today and he was buried in the graveyard there. This site was outside the city, across the river Tiber. The Emperor Constantine built a church on the Vatican Hill, where Peter was buried in 64 A.D. A small shrine already existed on the site but it was then replaced by a new building church was completed around 349 A.D.
In the middle of the 15th century, the basilica was falling into ruin and Pope Nicolas V ordered the restoration and enlargement of the church. After Nicolas V died, works were halted. In 1506 pope Julius II laid the first stone of a new basilica which was to become the largest in the world.
Over 1000 churches were dedicated to St Peter in pre-Reformation England and another 280 were dedicated to Peter and Paul together. St Peter is celebrated by the universal Church on 29 June, the feast of St Peter and St Paul. Several symbols are associated with Peter: a set of keys, sometimes a ship or a fish, a cockerel, in memory of his denial of the Lord and his subsequent repentance.
Visitors to St Peter’s basilica can see the obelisk from Heliopolis which stands in the centre of the piazza. It once stood at the centre of the circus built by Caligula, just to the left of the present basilica. This was a place where the Christians were killed and Peter must have looked upon this same obelisk before he was martyred.
originally called Simon was from Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee. His brother was Andrew, who introduced Simon to Jesus. Simon was a married man and he worked as a fisherman, perhaps in cooperation with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Along with James and John, Simon was a witness to the Transfiguration of Jesus and this was one of many turning points in his life. Jesus told Simon that he would be the rock on which the Church was to be built, hence the name Peter, and he was given ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven.’
Paul was born in Tarsus and trained as a Pharisee by Gamaliel. His original name was Saul and he was strong in his determination to wipe out the Christians. He took part in the stoning of Stephen, sought out Christians and had them imprisoned. One day he was travelling to Damascus and he had a vision of Jesus Christ. This experience led him to see that Jesus was in some way connected with these Christians and he was to bring that faith in Jesus to many people. He was baptised and then retired to Arabia for about three years of prayer and solitude before he returned to Damascus. Now his Jewish enemies were so hostile that he had to escape by being lowered in a basket over the city wall. He went to Jerusalem but the Christians there were suspicious of him, till Barnabas reassured them about Paul. Some years later he worked in Antioch and he reproached Peter for appearing to compromise with the Jews. Paul undertook several missionary journeys. He eventually returned to Jerusalem where he was attacked and beaten by a mob for preaching against the Jewish legal requirements. He invoked his privileges as a Roman citizen and he was sent to Rome. On the voyage to Rome he suffered shipwreck off Malta and when he reached Rome he was under house-arrest for two years during which time he wrote more letters.
He then revisited Ephesus and some think he even reached Spain. Ultimately he was martyred in Rome during the persecution of Nero. He suffered beheading because he was a Roman citizen, at a place called Tre Fontane and was buried where the basilica of St Paul outside the walls now stands.
He was not only a tireless missionary, he was a wonderful thinker and theologian, able to explore and expound the significance of Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. His writings are included in the Canon of the New Testament. His usual emblems are a sword and a book. Like Peter his name has attracted numerous apocryphal writings. He shares the 29 June with St Peter as the main feast day, but there is also a feast on 25 January dedicated to the conversion of St Paul.