The altar in the lower chamber, Mamertine prison  Rome, Italy

The Infamous Mamertine Prison and the Supposed Incarceration of Saint Peter

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Saint Peter in the Mamertine Prison

There is a small altar in the lower chamber backed with a relief of Saint Peter baptizing his fellow prisoners.  On the front of the alter, standing out against a red marble background is an inverted cross, symbolizing the fact that St Peter was crucified upside-down in 64 AD.  A round opening in the floor, next to the altar, provides access to a spring which has existed in the floor since Classical times: this water is said to have healing properties which Saint Peter supposedly caused to miraculously rise up out of the ground to baptize fellow prisoners and guards with. 

According to early church tradition, Saints Peter and Paul were incarcerated in the Mamertine jail by the Emperor Nero prior to their execution.  It is thought to be this prison that St Paul makes reference to in the Bible (Timothy 4:21), when he urged Timothy to come visit him as he did not expect to get out until the following winter.  St. Paul also mentions imprisonment in other letters, such as in Philippians 1:13: " It has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ .”

The Liberation of Saint Peter from prison (1640), Antonio de Bellis

The Liberation of Saint Peter from prison (1640), Antonio de Bellis ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Prison/Church of Today

In recent years, Italian archaeologists have discovered evidence to support the theory that St Peter was imprisoned in such an underground dungeon not long before his crucifixion.  Frescoes have also been found at the site associated with St Peter from as early as the 7th century. 

Mamertine prison was eventually converted into a focus of cult-like worship of St Peter by the 7th century, and by the 8th, was being used as a church. The site has been a place of Christian worship since medieval times and over the centuries, has taken on a great deal of Christian significance - which is ironic since a number of Christians were imprisoned here. 

Mamertine Prison today, Rome, Italy

Mamertine Prison today, Rome, Italy ( Wikimedia Commons )

In the 16th century, a church, St Joseph of the Carpenters (San Giuseppe dei Falegnami), was built over the prison which still stands today attracting Christian pilgrims from around the world.

Featured Image: The altar in the lower chamber, Mamertine prison  Rome, Italy ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Bryan Hill

References

"Mamertine Prison - Rome." Mamertine Prison - Rome. http://www.rome-tour.co.uk/mamertine_prison.htm

"Sacred Destinations." Mamertine Prison. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-mamertine-prison

Rome, Nick. "Archeologists Find Evidence of St Peter's Prison." The Telegraph. June 25, 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/7852507/Archeologists-find-evidence-of-St-Peters-prison.html

"Mamertine Prison." Atlas Obscura. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mamertine-prison

"Roman Prisons." Roman Prisons. http://www.unrv.com/government/roman-prisons.php

Comments

Peter was never put in a headship over or greater tha any of the other Apostles. This is a fabrication that the West used to claim that the Patriarch of Rome was the "head of the church". All apostles, and then their descendants, the bishops, were all equal to one another. This was the way from the formation of the earliy Church. To this day the Orthodox Churches over the world operate like this, despite Constantinople's claim to be the "first among equals". And until Rome discards this papal magisterium, infallibility , and the claim to being the head of the church, reunion between East and West will never be posssible.

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