Here’s a great little story from one of the apocryphal (that is, fictitious) acts of the early Church. It’s from the Acts of Peter, and it may be familiar if you’ve seen the 1951 film, Quo Vadis? The setting is Rome, during the persecution of Nero, in about the year 65.
And as they considered these things, Xanthippe took knowledge of the counsel of her husband with Agrippa, and sent and showed Peter, that he might depart from Rome. And the rest of the brethren, together with Marcellus, urged him to depart. But Peter said to them: Shall we be runaways, brothers? and they said to him: No, but that you may yet be able to serve the Lord. And he obeyed the voice of the brothers and went forth alone, saying: Let none of you come forth with me, but I will go forth alone, having put on a disguise. And as he went forth from the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Domine, Quo vadis? (Lord, where are you going?) And the Lord said to him: I am going into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said to him: Lord, will you be crucified again? Jesus said to him: Yes, Peter, I am being crucified again. And Peter, after having seen the Lord ascending up into heaven, he came to his senses and returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said: I am being crucified: which was about to happen to Peter. (Acts of Peter 35)
The apostle Peter was martyred by crucifixion in the circus of Nero. According to tradition, he begged his executioners to kill him another way, since he said he was not worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord. So they crucified him upside down. The site of his crucifixion is now marked by a chapel in the south transept of St. Peter’s basilica. Here’s a picture of the original painting from that chapel:
And here’s Caravaggio’s dramatic Crucifixion of Peter:
For more on the apocryphal acts of the early Church, check out my latest book, Reading the Early Church Fathers from Paulist Press: