Saints of the Day – Peter Martyr of Alexandria

Pictorial Lives of the Saints illustration of Saint Peter of Alexandria, Bishop, MartyrArticle

Born at Alexandria, Egypt; died 311. Peter was a young ‘confessor’ during the Decian persecution. Later he became known for his extraordinary virtue, skill in the sciences, and learning and knowledge of Scripture. Peter was named head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, and in 300 was elected patriarch of the city to succeed Saint Theonas.

As bishop Saint Peter fought Arianism and extreme Origenism and spent the last nine years of his episcopate encouraging his flock to stand fast against the persecution of Christians launched by Emperor Diocletian. As the fury of the persecutions increased, Peter, according to Eusebius, heightened the rigor of his penances. He perceived the need for some rules that would lovingly, but sternly, welcome back into the Christian fold those who – under persecution and even torture – had lapsed from the faith and then wanted to return. These rules were eventually accepted throughout the Eastern Church; but others criticized Peter of Alexandria for being far too lenient.

One of those who apostatized was Bishop Meletius of Lycopolis in the Thebaid. Meletius was convicted by a council of having sacrificed to idols and other crimes. The sentence was deposition.

About that time Peter was forced into hiding; whereupon Meletius installed himself at the head of a discontent party. He began to usurp Peter’s authority as metropolitan and, in order to justify his disobedience, he accused Peter in writing of treating the lapsi too leniently. Peter excommunicated Meletius, but still hoped to reconcile him. His letter of excommunication reads: “Now take heed to this and hold no communion with Meletius until I meet him, in company with some wise and discreet men, to find out what he has been plotting.” Nevertheless, this led to a schism in the Egyptian church that lasted for several generations.

Peter continued administering his see from hiding and returned to Alexandria when the persecutions were temporarily suspended. In 311, Emperor Maximinus Daia unexpectedly renewed the persecution. Peter was arrested and then executed – the last Christian martyr put to death in Alexandria by the authorities. Martyred with him were three of his priests: Dio, Ammonius, and Faustus, who appears to have been the companion of Saint Dionysius during his exile 60 years earlier. The Coptic Church calls him ‘the seal and complement of the martyrs,’ because he was the last Christian to die for the faith before Constantine granted religious toleration throughout the empire.

Eusebius calls him ‘an inspired Christian teacher . . . a worthy example of a bishop, both for the goodness of his life and his knowledge of the Scriptures.’ Among Peter’s fragmentary writings are some regulations of great interest, drawn up in 306; they deal with the treatment of those Christians who in varying degrees had failed under persecution. Portions of a book he wrote on the Divinity are preserved in the councils of Ephesus (Act. 1 and 7) and Chalcedon (Act. 1). Several related items of interest are available on the Internet: The Genuine Acts of Peter, The Canonical Epistle, and a document entitled Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Coulson, Delaney, Husenbeth).

Saint Peter is depicted as a bishop enthroned between angels in Sienese paintings. Sometimes he is shown (1) holding the city of Siena while wearing a tiara rather than a mitre; (2) with Christ appearing to him as a child in rags; or (3) embracing his executioner. He is the patron of Siena, Italy (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 August 2020. Web. 26 November 2020. <>