Saints Peter and Marcellinus: The Iconography

In Rome, the natal day Not their birthday but the day they died and were "born again" into Heaven of the martyrs Saint Marcellinus, Priest, and St. Peter, Exorcist. They taught the faith to many who were in prison, so the judge Serenus had them beheaded, after a dire imprisonment and many torments, in the place known as Silva Nigra ["the Black Woods"]. Afterwards, the name of Silva Nigra was changed to Silva Candida ["the White Woods"] in their honor. Their bodies were buried in a crypt next to St. Tiburtius and later Pope St. Damasus adorned their sepulcher with verses. – Roman Martyrology for June 2

This St. Peter is known as Peter the Exorcist. From very early times "exorcists" were men ordained to the ministry of exorcizing candidates for baptism. In the Golden Legend Peter was thrown into prison during the persecutions of Diocletian. There he drove out a demon that had possessed Paulina, the daughter of his jailer Archemius. That night he also appeared to Archemius in a vision, clad all in white and holding a cross in his hand. The jailer and his family then came to believe, and they were baptized by the priest Marcellinus.

When the prefect heard of all this he ordered that all the parties be executed. "The pagans" stabbed Archemius to death with a sword, stoned Paulina and her mother, and beheaded Peter and Marcellinus.

Images of St. Peter the Exorcist are rare. Usually they give the saint a promotion into the clergy. Jameson (II, 244) mentions two works in which he is dressed as a priest: a fragment from the Roman catacombs and a Renaissance painting where he and Marcellinus baptize Paulina together.

In the 12th-century mosaic at right, Peter is tonsured and dressed as a deacon in a procession with other deacon saints. The second and fourth deacons in the procession hold censers while the first and third (Peter and Lawrence) hold hand crosses. The crosses may be intended as attributes: Peter was holding a cross when he appeared to the jailer in the vision, and Lawrence is often represented with a ceremonial cross.

Caxton may have been influenced by this iconography when his translation of the Legend rendered the Latin title De Sancto Petro Exorcista as "The Life of S. Peter the Exorcist or Deacon."

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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Mosaic of St. Peter the Exorcist (Cefalù Cathedral, 12th century. For details, see below)


The above image is taken from this pro­ces­sion of dea­con saints (up­per re­gis­ter) and bishop saints (low­er). St. Pe­ter is the fig­ure on the left in the up­per register. See the de­scrip­tion page for dis­cus­sion and a larger copy of this image.)

DATES

  • Feast day: June 2
  • The two saints' year of death is traditionally recorded as 304, during the height of the Diocletian persecution.

HAGIOGRAPHY