Treasures of the Church- Holy Sites

mamertine prison

St. Peter, the first pope, was imprisoned on 2 separate occasions during his 25 years reign as the Vicar of Christ. It is believed that St. Peter was kept in the Mamertine Prison, at the base of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, during his second Roman imprisonment. In this prison many famous historical personages were executed, before entering the prison there is a long list of Christian martyrs who died there. Access to the prison was through a hole in the ceiling, above the prison was a room for the prison guards.

Church tradition states that Peter performed a miracle by causing water to gush from a cell wall to quench the thirst of prisoners and also to baptize converts, including two jailers. Today this spring of water is situated next to the altar. While imprisoned there, Paul is also believed to have written some of his most impassioned letters to the early Christian church. Unafraid of dying, he sent a message from his prison cell: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” In another instance he wrote “At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16; see also vs. 9-13).

The pious Eudocia, wife of Emperor Teodosio II, journeyed to Jerusalem and found the chain that had bound Peter during his second imprisonment. According to the Acts of the Apostles (12:6), an angel caused the chains to fall from Peter's hands and led him past slumbering guards to freedom.

The chain was eventually given as a gift to Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461). In Rome there was already a chain that was greatly prized which had bound the saint during his nine month imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison near the Forum. When the pope compared the two chains, they miraculously fused together into one unbreakable series of links. Because of this miracle, Empress Eudocia built the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, and dedicated it to the apostle in the year 442. The relic is now kept in a golden urn beneath the high altar, close to the famous statue of Michelangelo's Moses.

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