The dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul

November 17, 2017

The Pastor's Page

November 18 is the memorial of the dedication of two of the oldest and most important basilicas of the Church, the first St. Peter’s Basilica and the first St. Paul’s Basilica. Both churches were in Rome, one inside the ancient city walls on the Vatican Hill where local Christians believed that the grave of St. Peter was located, the other outside the ancient city walls on the Via Ostia where the relics of St. Paul were buried.

The Emperor Constantine (d. 337) ordered that churches be built at both sites. Construction on St. Peter’s began while he was alive and was completed by his sons. A smaller church was built on the Via Ostia at the direction of Constantine, and in 386 the construction of a huge basilica began under Emperor Valentinian II and continued under Emperors Theodosius and Honorius. St. Peter’s was dedicated in 350 AD and St. Paul’s was dedicated in 390 AD by Pope St. Siricius.

Both basilicas, as impressive as they were, were later replaced by the magnificent basilicas of today. Construction on St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica began in 1506, continued through the Sixteenth Century under the direction of Michelangelo (d. 1564), the main architect, as well as a number of other architects, and was consecrated on November 18, 1626, by Pope Urban VII. The first Basilica of St. Paul was destroyed by fire in 1823, was completely rebuilt, and the new Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was consecrated on December 10, 1854, by Pope Pius IX. They are two of the four main pilgrimage churches in Rome, along with the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.

While both basilicas have great spiritual significance, the saints that they honor are the main focus. Sts. Peter and Paul are remembered together twice during the liturgical year, on their Solemnity on June 29, and on the memorial of their first basilicas on November 18. They are the two princes of Christ’s apostles, St. Peter, our leader in faith, the apostle to the Jews; and St. Paul, the fearless preached of the faith, the apostle to the Gentiles. St. Peter raised up the Church from the faithful flock of Israel; St. Paul brought Jesus’ call to the nations and became the teacher of the world (Preface 63, former Sacramentary).

Both saints have much in common. Peter and Paul were both Jews; both laborers, one a fisherman, the other a leather worker; both were called individually by Jesus, Peter while he was fishing, Paul while he was on the road to Damascus; both were aware that they were sinners, Peter, who said, “I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8), Paul who wrote, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners … of these I am the foremost” (1 Tm 1:15); both traveled extensively as missionaries to preach the gospel, Peter throughout Israel and then to Rome, Paul to Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome; both wrote extensively, Peter wrote two letters and most likely provided Mark with the information for his gospel, while thirteen letters are attributed to Paul; both were imprisoned, Peter in the Mamertinum prison in Rome, Paul in Philippi, Caesarea, and Rome; and both were martyred, Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded with a sword.

The Church received the beginning of her knowledge of things divine through Sts. Peter and Paul, and these two apostles are most responsible for the spread of Christianity. The truth was handed down to us by them, and we are governed under their patronage (Roman Missal).

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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