Sts. Peter and Paul are the founders of the See of Rome, through their preaching, ministry, and martyrdom there. As early as the year 258, there is evidence of a lengthy tradition of celebrating the solemnities of both men together.
Peter, who was named Simon, was a fisherman of Galilee. He was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who was also a fisherman. Jesus gave him the name Cephas (Petrus in Latin), which means “Rock,” because Peter was the rock upon which Jesus would build his Church.
Peter was a bold follower of Christ. He was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and pledged his fidelity until death. He made many mistakes — losing his faith when he walked on the water with Jesus, and betraying Jesus on the night of his passion.
Despite his human weaknesses, Peter was chosen to shepherd God’s flock. The Acts of the Apostles illustrates his role as head of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension. Peter was the first pope, and ensured that the disciples kept their faith.
Peter spent his last years in Rome, leading the Church through persecution. He was martyred in the year 64, crucified upside-down at his own request, because he said he was not worthy to die in the same way as Jesus.
He was buried on Vatican hill, and St. Peter’s Basilica is built over his tomb.
St. Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles. Before receiving the name Paul, he was called Saul. He was a Jewish pharisee who zealously persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. Scripture records that Saul was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, where he was headed to persecute the Christian community there. As he was traveling along the road, a great light from Heaven suddenly surrounded him. Saul was blinded and fell off his horse. Then a voice said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He answered, “Who are you, Lord?” Christ said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Saul continued to Damascus, where he was baptized and regained his sight. He took the name Paul, and spent the remainder of his life preaching the Gospel tirelessly to the Gentles of the Mediterranean world. His letters are included in the writings of the New Testament, and detail much about his life and the faith of the early Church.
Paul was imprisoned in Rome, where he was beheaded in the year 67. He is buried in Rome in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
In a sermon given in 395, St. Augustine of Hippo said of Sts. Peter and Paul: “Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two wee one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”