Sunday, June 04, 2023

The Translation of St Peter Martyr

When St Peter Martyr was assassinated near Como in northern Italy on April 6th, 1252, his body was taken to the very ancient basilica of St Eustorgius in Milan, which had been given over to his order less than 30 years earlier. As narrated in Fr William Bonniwell’s History of the Dominican Liturgy (pp. 237-8), in 1335, the community of this church made a general appeal to the Order for funds to build a monumental tomb for him; these were swiftly collected, and the tomb was commissioned in 1339 from a Pisan sculptor named Giovanni Balducci.

The following year, a general chapter was held in Milan, and on Pentecost Sunday, June 4th, the original tomb where Peter had been laid to rest 87 years before was opened. The body was discovered to be incorrupt, and the large wound on his head still clearly visible; it was then laid on the church’s altar so that it could be clearly seen, and as often happens on such occasions, many miracles took places. It was then removed to the new tomb, which is of the type known as an ark, which is designed so that the faithful can walk under it and venerate it. (All pictures by Nicola de’ Grandi.)

A feast to commemorate this translation was instituted by the Dominican general chapter of 1348, and at first assigned to June 4th, but later moved to May 7th, only eight days after his principal feast on April 29. (Fr Bonniwell does not say so, but this must have been because June 4th so often coincided with Pentecost or Corpus Christi, and their octaves.) This feast was suppressed by the general chapter held at Salamanca in 1551, which did a thorough revision of all the Order’s liturgical books; reinstated on June 4th during the reign of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-54), then removed from the Order’s general calendar when the Dominican version of the St Pius X Divino Afflatu reform was promulgated in 1923. Finally, in the post-Conciliar rite, St Peter was assigned to this day on the Order’s new general calendar, although of course, this year, he is impeded by Trinity Sunday, and will not be celebrated at all.
In 1462, a Florentine named Pigello Portinari, who was the director of the Milanese branch of the Medici bank, commissioned a large family chapel attached to the basilica, which was completed by 1468; in 1736, the ark of St Peter was moved into the middle of the chapel, where is still stands today. The attribution of the design of the chapel is a matter of discussion; the frescos on the walls are by a Lombard named Vincenzo Foppa.
Pigello Portinari and St Peter Martyr, 1460, by Benedetto Bembo (?)
The major panels on the front of the tomb show St Peter’s funeral, his canonization, and a posthumous miracle by which he saves a ship in danger.

On the back, St Peter heals a mute, causes a cloud to cover the sun while he preaches outdoors, and heals a sick man and an epileptic.
On the left side, the martyrdom of St Peter...
and on the right, the translation of the relics.
The Virgin and Child with Ss Dominic and Peter
The pendentives under the dome are decorated with tondos of the Four Doctors of the Church; the arch seen here on the left shows the Assumption, while the others have episodes from the life of St Peter. 
The miracle of the cloud.
St Peter performs a miraculous healing at Narni; a young man who had kicked his own mother had then cut off his own foot in remorse, but St Peter reattaches it and heals him.

A very famous apparition in which the devil appeared to St Peter in the guise of the Virgin, but was driven off when St Peter showed him a Eucharistic Host and told the apparition, “If you are truly the Mother of God, then adore your Son!”

The Assassination of St Peter

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