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Heart of the Church (St. Peter in Words and Stone)
ncr ^ | June 28, 2009 | BARBARA COEYMAN HULTS

Posted on 06/28/2009 1:51:59 PM PDT by NYer

One warm summer day many years ago, I saw St. Peter’s and its piazza for the first time. I was, of course, overwhelmed at its grandeur and enormity.

Yet something was not right. Where was Peter in all this? I knew he was the first pope, but how did that relate to this vast complex of columns and statues? He was a fisherman from Galilee.

As I walked toward the left side entrance to the basilica, I looked up at the statue of a muscular man carrying the famous key to the Kingdom of heaven. I felt Peter coming closer.

Then, once inside, I walked along the left aisle to a statue that had many admirers waiting in line. I followed them and found myself rubbing the foot of the saint, which had been smoothed by centuries of hands and lips. St. Peter’s hand is raised in blessing, and you can see the famous key. Not many statues are so beloved. When it was made is unclear. Estimates range from classical times to the Renaissance.

On June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (a holiday in Italy), the statue will be arrayed with alb, stole, red cape and ring, paying tribute to the first pope, who led the Christian flock for about 25 years.

Then I soon saw the twisted columns and lights at the altar above the place where Peter’s bones lay. I felt a kinship with the millions of tourists who had come here through the ages to be near the sacred aura of Peter. The 99 oil lamps in a semicircle here burn day and night.

The emperor Constantine, in the year 324, had a church built here to mark the spot where Peter’s bones were kept, as more and more Christians came along roads the Roman Empire had laid. But wars and relic sellers destroyed that church, and the bones were forgotten.

It was not until the late Renaissance, from 1506 to 1621, that the present basilica was constructed. The popes wanted to take advantage of the supreme talents of Michelangelo and Bernini, to name a few. And it was not until 1939 that serious excavation was done in the ground beneath. Archeologists spent years examining the tombs and relics found there.

And still today they find more.

Bones of the Founders

It is customary to kneel at the semicircular rail near the reliquary that signals the bones of the saint below and recite the Apostles’ Creed. There I was at the heart of the Church, the goal of pilgrims since Peter’s martyrdom. I felt amazingly at home. (There are many places in St. Peter’s to pray, and when tour groups are too noisy or camera-obsessed, you can always go to the wonderful, silent Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, where cameras and chatter are prohibited.)

In the year 195, a man called Gaius wrote: “Go to the Vatican [hill] on the Via Ostia and you will find the tombs of the founders of the Church.”

Directly above the altar you will soon see, around the inside of the base of the famous dome of Michelangelo, the words in Latin: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. And I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.”

In the left transept a mosaic of a painting by Guido Reni shows St. Peter’s crucifixion, upside down, as he wished, to show that he was not as important as Jesus.

At the far end of the basilica in the Chapel of the Cathedra, a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit is surrounded by little angels who seem to be playing hide-and-seek amid the sunbeams. The elaborate Chair of St. Peter reflects the continuity of the Church. Beneath this chair lies a simple wooden one that is from the fourth century.

To see the excavation level below and the “Red Wall” where the saint’s bones were discovered, go to the entrance in the left aisle, as you will need a ticket and guide.

Continuing our search for St. Peter, cross the Tiber to see, near the Colosseum, San Pietro in Vincoli, or St. Peter in Chains. One of the basilica’s major attractions is a powerful Moses sculpted by Michelangelo. The horns he bears symbolize his strength. (The horns are a result of the Latin Vulgate mistranslation of the Hebrew text. The word for “rays” of light and “horns” is similar in Hebrew, and the Vulgate got it wrong. It’s in the passage where Moses’ face was radiant after talking with God. Michelangelo wouldn’t have known any different version than the Vulgate, so he was simply depicting Moses as described in the Bible.) The chain shown at the main altar is by tradition one of the chains that bound Peter in the Mamertine Prison. That prison is near the Roman Forum and can be visited. The lower level is where Peter and Paul were both chained. When a miraculous spring arose, so the legend goes, they were set free, to be martyred later.

Reading St. Peter

For a final tribute to our beloved saint, go to a favorite church of mine in Piazza del Popolo: Santa Maria del Popolo. Among its many treasures are two paintings by Caravaggio: “St. Peter Crucified” and “St. Paul Converted on the Way to Damascus.” They are both dynamic pictures, showing the famous Caravaggio diagonal construction.

Despite all these wonders, I still needed to know more of St. Peter. Then a curious thing happened. I was traveling to Rome from Florence on a crowded train. I was sitting on my suitcase in the aisle, next to a young woman who was intent on reading something, ignoring the fact that we were thrown back and forth by the train. I soon discovered that her reading material was one of St. Peter’s letters.

It had never occurred to me to prepare for the pilgrimage to the Vatican through the Bible. The Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the two letters of St. Peter were full of tales of the disciple — his ever-present gaffes, annoying Christ and deserting him, and then his being chosen as “the rock” and his 25 years or so as pope.

Apropos of Peter’s desertion, you might want to visit the Church of Domine Quo Vadis on the Old Appian Way near the catacombs. Tradition has it that Peter was fleeing Rome and his execution when he saw Christ coming toward him. “My Lord, where are you going?” he asked. Jesus answered, “To Rome to be crucified a second time.” He then disappeared. Peter returned to Rome for his crucifixion. The footprints of Christ on the spot where Peter stood have been preserved in marble in this church.

The blessings of Peter and Paul make this day an important one in Christian lives. Without them, where would we be?

Barbara Coeyman Hults

writes from New York.

Getting There

The sites mentioned are best found with a good tourist map and a helpful hotel concierge.

Planning Your Visit

Spring and fall are the best times to go to Rome. Try to stay at the center of the city (near the Pantheon), from which you can walk to sites or board a bus when not overfilled.
Buses are often unpleasant for anyone but the pickpockets. Put any valuables in a hotel safe (many have room safes), and keep enough euros for the day in an inside pocket. Keep a list of your passport and credit card numbers.

TOPICS: Catholic; Current Events; History

1 posted on 06/28/2009 1:51:59 PM PDT by NYer
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To: Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; nickcarraway; Romulus; ...
St. Peter’s hand is raised in blessing, and you can see the famous key. Not many statues are so beloved. When it was made is unclear. Estimates range from classical times to the Renaissance.

On June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (a holiday in Italy), the statue will be arrayed with alb, stole, red cape and ring, paying tribute to the first pope, who led the Christian flock for about 25 years.

2 posted on 06/28/2009 1:55:00 PM PDT by NYer ("Run from places of sin as from a plague." - St. John Climacus)
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To: All


Feast: June 29

Feast Day: June 29
Died: 64, Rome, Italy
Major Shrine: St. Peter's Basilica
Patron of: against frenzy, bakers, bridge builders, butchers, clock makers, cobblers, feet problems, fever, fishermen, foot problems, harvesters, locksmiths, longevity, masons, net makers, papacy, ship builders, shoemakers, Universal Church, many more...

St. Peter is mentioned so often in the New Testament—in the Gospels, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles of St. Paul—that we feel we know him better than any other person who figured prominently in the life of the Saviour. In all, his name appears 182 times. We have no knowledge of him prior to his conversion, save that he was a Galilean fisherman, from the village of Bethsaida or Capernaum. There is some evidence for supposing that Peter's brother Andrew and possibly Peter himself were followers of John the Baptist, and were therefore prepared for the appearance of the Messiah in their midst. We picture Peter as a shrewd and simple man, of great power for good, but now and again afflicted by sudden weakness and doubt, at least at the outset of his discipleship. After the death of the Saviour he manifested his primacy among the Apostles by his courage and strength. He was "the Rock" on which the Church was founded. It is perhaps Peter's capacity for growth that makes his story so inspiring to other erring humans. He reached the lowest depths on the night when he denied the Lord, then began the climb upward, to become bishop of Rome, martyr, and, finally, "keeper of the keys of Heaven."

Our first glimpse of Peter comes at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry. While He was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, casting a net into the water. When He called to them, "Come, and I will make you fishers of men," they at once dropped their net to follow Him. A little later we learn that they visited the house where Peter's mother-in-law was suffering from a fever, and Jesus cured her. This was the first cure witnessed by Peter, but he was to see many miracles, for he stayed close to Jesus during the two years of His ministry. All the while he was listening, watching, questioning, learning, sometimes failing in perfect faith, but in the end full of strength and thoroughly prepared for his own years of missionary preaching.

Let us recall a few of the Biblical episodes in which Peter appears. We are told that after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus withdrew to the mountain to pray, and his disciples started to sail home across the Lake of Galilee. Suddenly they saw Him walking on the water, and, according to the account in Matthew, Jesus told them not to be afraid. It was Peter who said, "Lord, if it is Thou, bid me come to Thee over the water." Peter set out confidently, but suddenly grew afraid and began to sink, and Jesus stretched forth His hand to save him, saying, "O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?"

Then we have Peter's dramatic confession of faith, which occurred when Jesus and his followers had reached the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus having asked the question, "Who do men say that I am?" there were various responses. Then Jesus turned to Peter and said, "But who do you say that I am?" and Peter answered firmly, "Thou art the Christ, son of the living God." (Matthew xvi, 13-18; Mark viii, 27-29; Luke ix, 18-20.) Then Jesus told him that his name would henceforth be Peter. In the Aramaic tongue which Jesus and his disciples spoke, the word was kepha, meaning rock. Jesus concluded with the prophetic words, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock shall be built My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

There seems to be no doubt that Peter was favored among the disciples. He was selected, with James and John, to accompany Jesus to the mountain, the scene of the Transfiguration, to be given a glimpse of His glory, and there heard God pronounce the words, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

After this, the group had gone down to Jerusalem, where Jesus began to prepare his disciples for the approaching end of his ministry on earth. Peter chided Him and could not bring himself to believe that the end was near. When all were gathered for the Last Supper, Peter declared his loyalty and devotion in these words, "Lord, with Thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death." It must have been in deep sorrow that Jesus answered that before cockcrow Peter would deny Him thrice. And as the tragic night unrolled, this prophecy came true. When Jesus was betrayed by Judas as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and was taken by soldiers to the Jewish high priest, Peter followed far behind, and sat half hidden in the courtyard of the temple during the proceedings. Pointed out as one of the disciples, Peter three times denied the accusation. But we know that he was forgiven, and when, after the Resurrection, Jesus manifested himself to his disciples, He signaled Peter out, and made him declare three times that he loved Him, paralleling the three times that Peter had denied Him. Finally, Jesus charged Peter, with dramatic brevity, "Feed my sheep." From that time on Peter became the acknowledged and responsible leader of the sect.

It was Peter who took the initiative in selecting a new Apostle in place of Judas, and he who performed the first miracle of healing. A lame beggar asked for money; Peter told him he had none, but in the name of Jesus the Nazarene bade him arise and walk. The beggar did as he was bidden, cured of his lameness. When, about two years after the Ascension, the spread of the new religion brought on the persecutions that culminated in the martyrdom of St. Stephen, many of the converts scattered or went into hiding. The Apostles stood their ground firmly in Jerusalem, where the Jewish temple had become the spearhead of opposition to them. Peter chose to preach in the outlying villages, farther and farther afield. In Samaria, where he preached and performed miracles, he was offered money by Simon Magus, a magician, if he would teach the secret of his occult powers. Peter rebuked the magician sternly, saying, "Keep thy money to thyself, to perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased by money."

With his vigorous outspokenness, Peter inevitably came into conflict with the Jewish authorities, and twice the high priests had him arrested. We are told that he was miraculously freed of his prison chains, and astonished the other Apostles by suddenly appearing back among them. Peter now preached in the seaports of Joppa and Lydda, where he met men of many races, and in Caesarea, where he converted the first Gentile, a man named Cornelius. Realizing that the sect must win its greatest support from Gentiles, Peter helped to shape the early policy towards them. Its growing eminence led to his election as bishop of the see of Antioch. How long he remained there, or how or when he came to Rome, we do not know. The evidence seems to establish the fact that his last years were spent in Rome as bishop. The belief that he suffered martyrdom there during the reign of Nero in the same year as St. Paul is soundly based on the writings of three early Fathers, St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian.[1] The only writings by St. Peter which have come down to us are his New Testament Epistles I and II, both of which are thought to have been written from Rome to the Christian converts of Asia Minor. The First Epistle is filled with admonitions to mutual helpfulness, charity, and humility, and in general outlines the duties of Christians in all aspects of life. At its conclusion (I Peter v, 13) Peter sends greetings from "the church which is at Babylon." This is accepted as further evidence that the letter was written from Rome, which in the Jewish usage of the time was called "Babylon." The second Epistle warns against false teachings, speaks of the Second Coming of the Lord, and ends with the beautiful doxology, "But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, both now and the day of eternity."

The latest archeological findings indicate that St. Peter's Church in Rome rises over the site of his tomb, as Pius XII announced at the close of the Holy Year of 1950. In the catacombs many wall writings have been found which link the names of St. Peter and St. Paul, showing that popular devotion to the two great Apostles began in very early times. Paintings of later date commonly depict Peter as a short, energetic man with curly hair and beard; in art his traditional emblems are a boat, keys, and a cock.

3 posted on 06/28/2009 2:04:25 PM PDT by NYer ("Run from places of sin as from a plague." - St. John Climacus)
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To: NYer
One warm summer day many years ago, I saw St. Peter’s and its piazza for the first time. I was, of course, overwhelmed at its grandeur and enormity.

St. Peter's pizza.

Seriously, though, an awesome place.

But don't forget to try the pizza as well. :-)

4 posted on 06/28/2009 2:51:09 PM PDT by john in springfield
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