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A depiction of Peter using his sword to strike Malchus (circa 1520, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon).

Is the Sword of St. Peter in Poland The Real Deal?

The Sword of St. Peter is an artifact believed to have once been in the possession of St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Bible stories say the right ear of one of the high priest’s servants was sliced off by one of the apostles on the night before the Crucifixion of Jesus – some versions name the servant and apostle. As this weapon is supposedly associated with the Prince of the Apostles, it has been considered a relic.

The Sword of Saint Peter in the Archdiocesan Museum of Poznan, Poland.

The Sword of Saint Peter in the Archdiocesan Museum of Poznan, Poland . ( GNU Free Documentation License )

Naming the Servant and Apostle of the Sword Story

The incident of the high priest’s servant having his right ear cut off can be found in all four canonical gospels. Nevertheless, it is only the author of the Gospel of John which named the servant, as well as the apostle. According to the author, the servant was called Malchus, who participated in the arrest of Jesus, whilst the apostle who did the deed was St. Peter. Incidentally, only the Gospel of Luke mentions that Jesus reattached the servant’s severed ear.

‘Christ Taken Prisoner’ (c. 1597) by Giuseppe Cesari.

‘Christ Taken Prisoner’ (c. 1597) by Giuseppe Cesari. ( Public Domain )

In any case, it is believed that the Sword of St. Peter somehow found its way to Rome, and resided there for several centuries. The story goes that it was during the 10th century that the relic was brought to Poland. During the reign of Mieszko I (ca. 960 – 992 AD), Christianity was adopted as the religion of the state. To commemorate the conversion of Poland, Pope John XIII decided to give the Sword of St. Peter as a gift, either to Mieszko I, or to Bishop Jordan, the first Bishop of Poland. Mieszko’s center of power was in Poznan, whilst the bishop is believed to have had his seat in the same city, hence the Sword of St. Peter ended up there, regardless of whether it was the duke or the bishop who received the papal gift. 

Contemporary mural in Gniezno commemorating the baptism of Mieszko I/Poland.

Contemporary mural in Gniezno commemorating the baptism of Mieszko I/Poland. ( Public Domain )

A Medieval Copy of the Saint’s Sword?

In form, the Sword of St. Peter has been described as being wide-tipped, and has a shape that resembles a dussack (a cutlass / sabre type of sword used as a side arm during the 16th and 17th centuries) or a machete. It has also been claimed that the relic displayed in the Archdiocesan Museum’s treasury is a falchion, a type of sword that came into use from around the 13th century, long after the lifetime of St. Peter. In terms of composition, it was found that the Sword of St. Peter was made of iron, which has suffered from corrosion over the centuries. According to one source, metallurgical analysis of the relic has shown that it was made long after St. Peter’s death. One explanation for this is that it is a medieval copy of the original sword.

The Sword Reaches the Hands of Another Saint

There is another story about the Sword of St. Peter. According to legend, the sword, which was given the name Meribah, was brought to Glastonbury by St. Joseph of Arimathea, and kept by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey. One day, an evil knight sought to take the sword from the abbey, and the monks asked St. George to defend their treasure. The evil knight was defeated by the saint, and the Sword of St. Peter was given to him as a reward. If St. George did possess the Sword of St. Peter, it is unclear as to what eventually happened to it, or how it might be related to the sword in Poznan.

St George laying down spear, sword, and shield. From ‘Life of St. George in Verse’ by Datuna Kvariani, 17th century.

St George laying down spear, sword, and shield. From ‘Life of St. George in Verse’ by Datuna Kvariani, 17th century. ( Public Domain )

Today, the Sword of St. Peter is displayed in the treasury of the Archdiocesan Museum in Poznan, along which much more luxurious-looking objects, such as gold and silver religious artifacts. Nevertheless, this plain iron sword is significant in its own right, and, apart from its perceived status as a relic, is also important for being the sword with the longest recorded history in Poland, along with Szczerbiec, the sword used during the coronation ceremonies of most Polish monarchs from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

Top image: A depiction of Peter using his sword to strike Malchus (circa 1520, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon).   Source: CC BY SA 2.0

By Wu Mingren

References

Molloy, J., 1910. Malchus. [Online]
Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09566b.htm

Nash Ford Publishing, 2001. Royal St. George, Folklore or Fact?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.berkshirehistory.com/legends/george02.html

The Bible : Standard King James Version , 2014. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/

Willey, N., 2013. 10 Mysterious Swords From Legend And History. [Online]
Available at: https://listverse.com/2013/11/16/10-mysterious-swords-from-legend-and-history/

www.muzeum.poznan.pl, 2017. Treasury. [Online]
Available at: http://www.muzeum.poznan.pl/www2/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30:skarbiec&catid=31:galeria-eksponatow&Itemid=29

www.summagallicana.it, 2017. Malco. [Online]
Available at: http://www.summagallicana.it/lessico/m/Malco.htm

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