Just another pagan fable from the Catholic Church who gave us Easter, Christmas and Sunday Worship

What traditions connect the apostle Peter to Rome?


St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the traditional burial site of the apostle Peter.

The Repentant St. Peter by El Greco. Photo: The Phillips Collection.

Jesus’ chief disciple, Peter (also called Simon Peter or Cephas), has been associated with Rome for nearly 2,000 years. The earliest testimony to the apostle Peter’s presence in Rome is a letter from a Christian deacon named Gaius. Writing probably toward the end of the second century C.E.—so, around 170 or 180 C.E.—Gaius tells about the wondrous things in Rome, including something called a tropaion (see below for more) where Peter established a church—in fact, theChurch, the Roman Catholic church at the site where St. Peter’s Basilica is today. But there are other traditions besides Peter’s tropaion.

One early Christian text, the Apocryphal Acts of Peter, recounts many things that Peter did in the city. At one point in Acts of Peter, Peter is taunted by a flamboyant heretic, Simon Magus. Simon challenges Peter to a flying contest around the Roman Forum, but Peter’s prayers make Simon crash to the ground, proving that Simon’s powers are not as great as his own.

At the end of this text, Peter, not wishing to be martyred for his faith, flees from Roman authorities on the Via Appia leading out of the city. Rather unexpectedly, Peter meets Jesus, who is traveling in the opposite direction. He asks Jesus, “Where are you going?” Jesus tells Peter that he is going to Rome “to be crucified again.” Peter realizes, from this, that he cannot flee from his fate.

“Where are you going?” in Latin is “Quo Vadis?” and there’s a medieval church in Rome called the Church of Quo Vadis at the spot where Peter met Jesus. To prove that his vision was real, you can still see there a bit of marble pavement which the faithful say miraculously preserve Jesus’ footprints.

Is it likely that the apostle Peter went to Rome and founded the church there?


The Repentant St. Peter by El Greco. Photo: The Phillips Collection.

Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about Peter ever traveling to Rome.

When the gospels end, Peter is in Jerusalem. It’s the same in the Book of Acts. The apostle Paul, in his letters, also talks about meeting Peter in the eastern Mediterranean. After Jesus’ death, Paul says that Jesus’ brother, James, and Peter are the co-leaders of the “church,” or assembly, of Jesus-followers in Jerusalem.

In short, there is no early textual evidence for Peter in Rome, so for some people, it’s very hard to believe that he ever traveled there. Not only is it a very long way, according to the New Testament, Peter was a fisherman who was not very educated and who spoke only Aramaic; he was not the type of person that might travel widely across the Roman Empire to a large city where Latin and Greek were the dominant languages.

The absence of connection between Peter and Rome in the New Testament, the lack of references to him in our earliest Roman Christian literature, and what we know of Peter’s background and character all combine to make it unlikely, to my mind, that he ever went to Rome.

Is there any evidence that the apostle Peter died in Rome?

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the traditional burial site of the apostle Peter.

There is no solid evidence—textual or even archaeological—that Peter died in Rome.

Starting around the end of the second century, Christian pilgrims went to see Peter’s tropaion. But a tropaion is not a tomb. The word itself is very unusual; sometimes translated as “trophy,” it means something like a war memorial or a cenotaph (i.e., an empty grave). It’s not the word used in the Roman Empire for a burial place. Yet this spot—which was originally in the middle of an ancient cemetery—was quickly understood as the place where Peter was buried.

When it was excavated in the 1950s, archaeologists were shocked to find that there was no grave and no bones under the tropaion. Only later were some bones produced from that excavation, and it’s a fascinating story we talk about in Finding Jesus. Are these Peter’s bones? That appears to be a matter of faith. The official Vatican position, first stated in 1968, is that they might be.

Why are there two places in Rome where the apostle Peter was supposedly buried?

This is another fascinating thing we explore in Finding Jesus. Most people know about Peter’s traditional burial site at St. Peter’s. But it turns out that there’s a second site in Rome where pilgrims went for hundreds of years, which was known as the Memoria Apostolorum (the Memorial to the Apostles). It’s off the Via Appia at the modern site of the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, and you can still go and visit it today, although the memorial itself is largely built over.

What’s amazing is that the site preserves around 600 graffiti scrawled by Christian pilgrims in the early Middle Ages, most of them prayers to Peter and Paul, the joint patron saints of Rome. It certainly looks like people believed that Peter was buried there, but excavators found no evidence of a tomb there, either!

As far as I can tell, this leaves us with two options: Either Peter’s body was at both these sites at one point and moved from one to the other, or Peter’s body was never at either site, but people still associated him with the site. It didn’t always take a body or a tomb for a site to be sacred, after all.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on March 31, 2017.


Nicola Denzey Lewis, Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University, specializes in Gnosticism, Late Antiquity, Roman social history, the history of Christianity, and women and gender. Her recent publications include Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and the Graeco-Roman World(Brill, 2013) and Introduction to “Gnosticism” (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013).

One thought on “The Plain Truth… The Apostle Peter Never Went to Rome”
  1. The article, “The Plain Truth…The Apostle Peter Never Went to Rome”
    “Just another pagan fable from the Catholic Church who gave us Easter, Christmas and Sunday Worship” by Nicola Denzey Lewis raises some very good questions.
    The author said, “Peter was a fisherman who was not very educated and who spoke only Aramaic;” I have to ask, at the particular juncture of time had not the Holy Spirit already Blessed Peter with the gift of Tongues? If so, then this particular claim is irrelevant.
    Acts 2:4-8 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

    Regarding Peter going to Rome. Our Savior said he was sent to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel and his command to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20 was “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
    Personally I do not know of any other church that has taken this commission to such a degree and has traveled to the ends of the earth to make it so since it was commanded. Unfortunately human nature along with the help of the fallen ones has always somehow intervened into what was intended as good, pure and Holy and somehow always seems to make the end worse than the beginning. Thus it is so with what has happened to the Roman Catholic Church.

    Regarding “another pagan fable”, it should be noted that while the Roman Catholic Church does pontificate mightily on spiritual matters which have pagan roots and in many ways have turned these pagan practices into so called Christian Holy Days, they did so to “gin up” their membership numbers at the expense of Scriptural Truth. It should be obvious that in order to attain higher participant numbers they highlighted some scriptural truths while blatantly ignoring others and eagerly adopted pagan holidays and renamed them Christian Holy Days. Reminds me of contemporary Christian churches, you know the Churches that preach that all one has to do to be saved is “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” all the while totally ignoring His commands regarding turning from sin, confessing ones sins, overcoming and helping others. I am surprised at how many so called Christians wear a necklace with a crucifix/cross while flagrantly behaving like imps, hellions or are just bad role models.

    Regarding Christmas, it was recently brought to my attention by an 85 year old gentleman who does not look a day over 50, a fellow member of the old WWCG and a man who “walks the walk” that there are some Christian Churches that celebrate Christmas as the day of the Immaculate Conception. If you take December 25 and add 280 days (give or take a few days) and use the year 5 or 4 BC as the year our Savior was born you have the Feast of Trumpets. Add to this interesting item that any credible medical book will tell you that life begins at conception.

    There are scriptures from the teachings of Paul which scream warning signs that the end is near. Scriptures that, in my opinion, can only be attributed to the Roman Catholic Church in all its contemporary fallen state.
    2 Thessalonians 2
    2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
    2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
    3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
    4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
    5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
    6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
    7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
    8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
    9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
    10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
    11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
    12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
    13 But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
    14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
    16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
    17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

    Has there not been a gigantic falling away from the Roman Catholic Church lately—they are closing churches faster than a speeding bullet, consolidating parishes and their leadership is doing all that “it” can to meld into a new one world religion. I personally attribute this gigantic falling away to what I believe to be an awakening by the members of the Catholic Church. To me the average, everyday Roman Catholic represented just about the finest example of what the Book of James teaches,
    Faith Without Works Is Dead
    14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
    18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without [a]your works, and I will show you my faith by [b]my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is [c]dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made [d]perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was [e]accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
    25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
    26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

    In conclusion it is my opinion that the Roman Catholic Church has not been all that bad, that there have been and are powerful spiritual and evil human forces at work to destroy it ever since it assembled, from ancient manuscripts and at the time contemporary writings, what we call our Holy Bible.

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