It is widely known that Peter was not only one of the original twelve apostles of Christ, but also the first Pope of the Catholic Church, crucified upside down in 67 AD. What is much less known is how exactly he came face his martyrdom. During one of my trips to the National Gallery in London, I came across a baroque painting that attempts to illustrate the story behind his martyrdom.
The painting is based on the book “The Golden Legend”, a Catholic compendium of the lives of the saints published in the thirteenth century. Painted in 160, by the Italian artist Annibale Carraci, the work depicts the vision that Peter had of Christ as he was fleeing from Rome to avoid persecution. To put an end to Peter’s preaching, emperor Nero decided to have him crucified, prompting him to escape from Rome. As he travelled down the Appian Way, Peter had a vision of Christ travelling in the opposite direction carrying a cross.
Exasperated, Peter interjected: “Domine, Quo Vadis?”, “Lord, where are you going?” To which Christ replied that he was going to Rome to be crucified a second time. Peter at once returned to Rome to preach the Gospel and face his execution. Let us not forget that this is Peter. The same man who, for much less, had denied Christ at least three times before. Having repented, he dedicated his life to erect the early Christian church and eventually had the indomitable courage necessary to face martyrdom for the sake of his faith. Like so many other Christians, Peter was a man born again.
This is why I decided to share this painting in celebration of Easter Sunday. In my boundless ignorance, I spent a vast portion of my life believing that Easter was more of a commercial than a religious holiday. One where we celebrated the chocolate egg industry more than anything else. I was blind and could not see. In fact, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, though our hearts never stop beating, there are times in our lives when we are dead, and desperately need to be resurrected. So let us not forget that on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, but despite our myriad failings, we also celebrate our own, just like Peter once did.