By Colleen Pressprich
Sts. Peter and Paul are arguably two of the most well-known and influential saints in the Catholic Church. So why do they share the same feast day on June 29?
Let’s take a look at who these two men were, why they are important, and why the Church has chosen to celebrate them together.
Who was St. Peter?
Born a humble fisherman of Galilee, St. Peter would become the Catholic Church’s first pope. Chosen by Christ and renamed Peter (his original name was Simon) because of its meaning, Jesus told His followers that on this rock He would build His Church.
Who was St. Paul?
Another saint who underwent a name change, Saul was an influential Jewish leader who became a passionate persecutor of Christians. One day while riding, he was struck down from his horse and blinded by a bright light. At that moment Christ called out to him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Saul had an immediate conversion of faith and became Paul. Because his preaching and ministry focused on non-jewish people, he is often called the Apostle to the Gentiles.
St. Paul is considered an apostle because although he did not meet Christ in life, he had a direct and explicit calling from the Lord after his Ascension.
So why are they celebrated together?
Sts. Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome during the persecution by Emperor Nero. St. Paul was beheaded because he was a Roman citizen. St. Peter was crucified upside down because he told the soldiers that he was not worthy to die in the same way that Jesus did.
A legend in the early centuries of the Church said that they were both killed on the same day in different parts of the city, and this coupled with the fact that their ministries were often entwined, led them to be celebrated on the same day. Thanks to historical record and archeological information, it is now believed that St. Peter was martyred first, most likely in the year 64 A.D., while St. Paul most likely died in the year 67 A.D.
But wait, there’s more!
Since Sts. Peter and Paul are both so important to the Church, they each have more than one feast day. And while we celebrate them together this month on June 29th, we also celebrate them other times during the year.
We commemorate St. Peter’s leadership amongst the apostles on February 22nd each year on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
We commemorate St. Paul’s conversion moment on January 25th each year and the radical transformation of his life from persecutor to apostle.
Colleen Pressprich is the author of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children. You can read more of her writing at elevatortoheaven.com.