The First Christian Martyrs of Rome

In front of St Peter'sThe Vatican Basilica of St. Peter (shown at right), the burial place of the Apostle, is a prime destination for pilgrims to Rome. Another important memorial of Peter, one of many in the city, is not so well known.

The Church of St.Peter in Chains was built by the Empress Eudoxia in the 5th century on the western slope of the Esquiline Hill, not far from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, to house the prison chains that held Peter, the Apostle. Many modern visitors find the chains questionable, of course, and usually turn to the tangible beauty of Michelangelo's statue of Moses, located in the same church. Chains that held the Apostle Peter. Really!

Site of the Roman Prefecture

Whatever one thinks of them, Eudoxia (pictured at right) chose a good place to house the chains. The Roman Prefecture, where justice was still being dispensed even in Eudoxia's day, once stood just south of the church. Rome's main prison was there, where suspected criminals were tortured, questioned and judged. At a spot not far away the condemned were summarily beheaded or strangled.

From the second half of the 1st century till the early 4th century, many Christians were convicted and executed in this area. For this reason the church, now surrounded by modern office buildings and shops, is holy ground for believers. It recalls many early Christian martyrs, especially those who died in the first great persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero around 67, which claimed the lives of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.

next: Nero's persecution

The first Christian martyrs Cecilia, an early saint Lawrence, the deacon
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