3rd Century Bronze Medallion of Saints Peter and Paul

In response to a valuable comment made about my post – Part 2 – Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying with Sacred Images, I thought everyone would enjoy seeing one of the oldest images in existence of Saints Peter and Paul: a bronze medallion found in an excavation of the cemetery of Saint Domitilla in Rome.

The Domitilla cemetery is fascinating because it is the oldest of the Roman catacombs and, according to one source, still contain bones. The Domitilla catacombs are very well preserved and contain a second century (AD 101 – 200) fresco of the Last Supper.

This image of the 3rd century bronze medallion is provided through the courtesy of Dr. Margherita Guarducci. It is found in her book The Tomb of Peter, which was published in 1960 through Hawthorn Books. The 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia verifies the authenticity of this bronze medallion and identifies other sources for the likenesses of Saints Peter and Paul. This bronze medallion is  in the Vatican Museum in Rome.

The medallion is unique, not only because of its age, but for its iconography; for it shows us the typical images of Peter and Paul that we know through our Church’s sacred art. St Paul (on the left) is portrayed with bald head and full beard, and St. Peter is portrayed with a full head of hair and a full beard.

The artistry of the medallion maker in crafting this piece is superb, since we can see that Peter has high cheek bones, a steady gaze, and pleasant facial expression. St. Paul also has unique features, with a specific cast to his nose and gaze in his eyes. The Scriptures tell us that St. Paul was afflicted with a number of ailments, and it appears, that the maker of this medallion was aware of that fact. One of the key features that St. Paul projects in this medallion is the steadiness of the gaze, and what appears to be the readiness to enter into debate and preach the word of God to all that would listen to him.

This is a fine image to pray with and meditate on this week, especially owing to the fact that this Friday, June 29th, is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The Depositio Martyrum (dated to the year AD 258) places the solemnity of these two men on that date. They are also the patrons of my Diocese – Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

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