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The Catholic Defender: the ‘Mamertine Prison’ located adiacent to the Roman Forum

This is the ‘Mamertine Prison’ located adiacent to the Roman Forum. Both Paul and Peter were imprisoned here.

At first you must walk down a very narrow stone stairway into the prison itself.

Pilgrims visiting Rome such as Steve Ray have been there many times making this a place their tours to Rome inclde.

This prison was simply known as “Carcer” (“prison”) in Paul’s day. The term “Mamertine” was attributed to the prison in the Medieval Period.

But its most famous prisoners are the reason for the altar in the corner. The leaders of the Catholic Church, the foremost martyrs of Rome, Saints Peter and Paul, were both have been imprisoned there in their final days. This describes their imprisonment and martyrdom in the 4th-century Passio sanctorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli:

“Tunc Nero teneri fecit Petrum et Paulum in uinculis..Tunc Nero dixit ad praefectum suum Agrippam: Homines inreligiosos necesse est male perdere…Et deducti sunt Petrus et Paulus a conspectu Neronis. Paulus decollatus est in uia Ostiensi. Petrus autem dum uenisset ad crucem ait: Quoniam dominus meus Iesus Christus de caelo ad terram descendens recta cruce sublimatus est, me autem quem de terra ad caelum euocare dignatur, crux mea caput meum in terra debet ostendere, et pedes ad caelum dirigere: ergo quia non sum dignus ita esse in cruce sicut dominus meus, girate crucem meam. At illi uerterunt crucem et pedes eius sursam fixerunt, manus uero deorsum.”

After being condemned to death on the same day by the emperor Nero, the two apostles were held at the Mamertine Prison to await their sentence. The text and tradition confirm that the martyrdom and imprisonment took place in Rome, the center of the Catholic world, on the orders of the pagan Roman ruler. It notes that Paul was beheaded and that Peter was crucified upside down, which the prison’s small altar commemorates with an inverted crucifix.

The earthly powerlessness of the saints is underscored by the frequent use of the passive voice to describe the imprisonment (“teneri Paulum et Petrum,” “deducti sunt,” etc.). This stands in stark contrast to what we already know: these are not ordinary criminals. Their submission to the imprisonment exemplifies their commitment to a power greater than the earthly realm, and their reward is assumed to be glorious on a heavenly scale. Pseudo-Marcellus describes Nero’s anxious reasoning for their martyrdom as the necessity of “male perdere” for “homines inreligiosos,” emphasizing the threat that Saints Peter and Paul represented to the religious and sociopolitical structure of contemporary Roman life.

Sancti Petre et Paule ora pro nobis


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