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All that We Have: The Image of Saint Peter of Verona in the Daily Mass Altar
Published on April 5-6, 2014 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
In the left niche of the front side of the altar in the Daily Mass Chapel is the image of Saint Peter of Verona (1205-1252) in whose honor the first Church of the parish was named in 1858. The Rev. Joseph T. Ryan, OP, (1819-1877) had hoped to name that new Church “Saint Mary” in honor of the Blessed Mother, but, the Right Rev. Martin J. Spalding (1810-1872), then the Bishop of Louisville (1850-1864), named it instead after the protomartyr (first martyr) of the Dominicans, the religious order to which Fr. Ryan belonged.
The image enshrined in our altar is based on a holy card that portrays the tonsured saint wearing a black cappa over the white habit of a Dominican friar. He holds in his left hand a red bound Book of the Gospels and a martyr’s palm branch. With the index finger of his right hand on his lips, he silences the deceits of heretics. The dagger in his bloodied shoulder recalls the story of his martyrdom. The scroll at his feet, with the Latin word “Credo” written in red letters, evokes both the first word of the Creed (“I believe”) and his last words at his death.
Peter was born in 1205 in Verona, Italy to parents who adhered to the heresy of the Cathari. At the age of fifteen, after hearing Saint Dominic de Guzmán (1170-1234) preach at the University of Bologna, he embraced the Catholic Faith and entered the Order of Preachers. His previous exposure to heresy made him an effective preacher against it, converting many heretics in Italy back to the Faith.
On April 6, 1252, on the road from Como to Milan, he and a fellow friar named Domenico was attacked by the assassin Carino of Balsamo. It is said that, after Carino struck his head with an axe, Peter dipped his fingers in his own blood and wrote on the ground the first article of the Creed: “Credo in unum Deum” (I believe in one God). His martyrdom led to his murderer’s conversion; how he died taught his killer how to live. The assassin confessed his crime and later became a Dominican lay brother. Today he is known as Blessed Carino of Balsamo (d. 1293) and his memorial is celebrated on April 28.
Peter of Verona was buried in the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio in Milan, Italy and an elaborate marble sepulcher was built for him in its Cappella Portinari. He was canonized a year after his death, on March 9, 1253, by Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254). His memorial has been celebrated on three different days: April 29 in the calendar of the Vetus Ordo, June 4 by the Dominicans, and April 6 (the date of his death in 1252) in the present martyrology.
The Dominicans have long referred to him as Saint Peter Martyr, in honor of the fact that he was the first in their Order to have died a martyr’s death. He is the patron saint of inquisitors, having been a papal inquisitor during his lifetime.