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Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is a liturgical feast that honors the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, two of the most well-known saints, who helped spread Christianity in its early days. They began being celebrated in the centuries immediately following their death. By some accounts, they were both killed on the same day in 67 CE, and the feast day takes place on this anniversary. Other accounts say Peter was martyred in 64 CE, while Paul was killed in 67 CE.

The day marks the end of the Apostles' Fast In some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. Congregants attend an All-Night Vigil or Vespers the night before, and a Divine Liturgy in the morning. In the General Roman calendar, it is a celebration of solemnity—a solemnity being a feast of the highest rank. It is a holy day of obligation in some parts of the Western Church, meaning Mass should be attended. This is the case in countries such as England, Scotland, and Wales, but not in the United States or Canada. It is observed in Rome, where Peter and Paul are patron saints. There the Pope leads rituals and puts a pallium—a woolen cloak—on those who became archbishops during the previous year. Other types of entertainment such as fireworks, fairs, and music also take place there on the day.

Peter, originally named Simon, was born in Bethsaida and was a fisherman living in Capernaum prior to becoming one of the twelve apostles, along with his brothers John and Andrew. Jesus gave him the name Peter, which means the Rock. He took a leading role in the early Christian church and Catholics see him as the first pope. He was crucified upside down because he believed he was not worthy to be crucified right-side up as Christ had been. He was buried in Rome at Vatican Hill, which is now the site of St. Peter's Basilica.

Paul, originally known as Saul, was born a few years after the birth of Jesus, in Tarsus, in the Roman province of Sicilia. He spent time in Jerusalem, but left, and never saw Jesus in the flesh. He was raised a Pharisee and opposed Christians when he returned to Jerusalem shortly after Jesus' death. According to the Bible, he converted to Christianity after Jesus appeared to him when he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. He then went on various mission trips in Asia Minor and Europe, and founded numerous churches. He was taken prisoner in Rome in 66 CE and was likely beheaded the following year, while Nero was persecuting Christians. Beheading was seen as being more humane than crucifixion; Paul was able to die this way because he was a Roman citizen. Paul was buried at what is now the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

How to Observe Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Observe the day by attending a church service, such as Divine Liturgy or Mass. The best way to observe probably is to make a pilgrimage to Rome. There you could attend Mass and visit the tombs of Peter and Paul. If you'd like to stay at home instead, you could spend the day reading about Peter and Paul. You could also cook a meal that is related to Peter or Paul.

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