Christian: Discovery of Icons Highlights Sts. Peter & Paul

Researchers found the earliest known icons of Sts. Peter and Paul in the dark catacombs beneath RomeTUESDAY, JUNE 29: Just days after archaeologists unearthed the first known icons of Sts. Peter and Paul, Christians across the world honor their feast day. Today, Christians recognize the martyrdom of the two saints who are known as the solid rock of the Church (more specifically, Jesus called Peter “the Rock.” Read more at Since ancient times, Christians have observed this liturgical feast. The feast is more than just a day to commemorate the two saints. For new metropolitan archbishops, today is the day to receive the primary symbol of their office from the pope; for Eastern Orthodox and some Eastern-Catholic Christians, today is the end of the Apostles’ Fast; and for still others, the day marked the end of a Catholic “Year for Paul” in 2009. (Learn more about the Year for Paul at its official site.)

Sts. Peter and Paul are honored on the same day because, together, they were such a foundation for the early Church. St. Peter was a leader among the Apostles, and Jesus told Peter that His Church would be built upon his “rock.” St. Paul was considered the Church’s most important missionary who made it his life mission to spread the Word. (Wikipedia has more.) Both Sts. Peter and Paul were martyrs of the faith, and their respective burial sites have been the destination of pilgrims for centuries.

Last week, researchers reported using laser technology to uncover the earliest-known iconic paintings of Sts. Peter and Paul—along with Christ, John and Andrew—beneath a working-class neighborhood in Rome. (Details are in this story carried by AP.) After trudging through the musty catacombs underneath modern Rome, researchers found paintings on the ceiling of an aristocratic Roman woman that date from the second half of the 4th century. With the laser technology, researchers were able to burn centuries’ worth of accumulated calcium carbonate from the paintings without damaging their colors. While officials note that earlier narratives of the two saints exist, nothing like this—with the saints’ faces isolated, encircled in gold—has ever been found as an earlier testimony to the Church’s devotion to the saints. Officials also note that the images of Andrew and John portray much younger faces than those often seen in Byzantine-inspired imagery. With each new discovery, modern believers are given more of a glimpse into the details of the early Christian Church.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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