Simon Peter was born in Bethsaida in the province of Galilee. He settled in Capharnaum where he was a fisherman, his brother Andrew who also fished, introduced him to Christ. They were both called for to be Jesus’ disciples and He gave him the name ‘Cephas’, the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek ‘Peter’ (petros) which means rock.
After Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus said to him, ‘Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’. His pre-eminence is again affirmed by the Lord at the Last Supper, but his boast that he will never leave Him is answered by Christ’s prediction that before the end of the night he will deny Him thrice. When in the courtyard of the High Priest he is accused of being one of His followers, he thrice denies that he knows Him, remembers His prediction, and repents bitterly. Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter affirmed his love for Him, balancing his threefold denial, and Jesus reconfirmed Peter’s position. After the Ascension of the Lord Peter immediately takes the lead of the Apostles and appears as their head.
He opens the Church to the Gentiles; Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army, was the first ever Gentile convert. He was the leader at the council of Jerusalem to discuss the integration of non-Jews into the Christian organisation. Peter was put into prison by King Herod, but on the night before he was to be executed, Peter was freed miraculously by an angel.
He left for Rome, while fleeing from Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians, Peter met Jesus on the road. Peter asked, ‘Domine, quo vadis?’ (‘Lord, where are you going?’). When Jesus answered ‘I am coming to be crucified again’, Peter gained the courage to continue his ministry and turned back to the city to face his martyrdom. Peter was crucified at Rome upside down, as he would not have considered himself worthy enough to die the same way as his Saviour. His tomb lies in St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s feast day is celebrated on 29 June.
The feast of the Chair of St. Peter is on 22 February, commemorating the gift of papacy given to Peter.
The unofficial feast of St. Peter in Chains is on 1 August, celebrating when Peter was imprisoned by King Herod, and his chains fell off him as he was led out of prison by an angel.