St. Peter, Apostle

February 22 is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This feast celebrates Peter as the one to whom Jesus gave authority among the apostles and who is considered the first leader of the Christian Church.

The St. Peter window is in the sanctuary to the left of the altar. Peter is holding large silver keys and is prominently pointing to a physical church building above his head. It has three domes, possibly symbolizing the three persons of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and a prominent red cross rises from the highest dome reminding us that the Church came into being through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The keys symbolize the authority which Jesus conferred upon Peter: “…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 16:18 – 19) God’s desire is that all people be united with him forever in heaven. Sin in the world and our lives battles against God’s desire, but the keys unlock the way to unity with God through the teachings and life of the Church.

Peter is dressed in a tunic of purple and magenta, colors symbolizing the authority of bishops in the Church. The fact that his entire garment is purple suggests that Peter is a bishop of higher authority, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The “bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome” are the teaching authority of the Church. (CCC 85) They also care for Catholics in their local diocese. Peter, who was a witness to the teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, exhorted his fellow presbyters in the early church to oversee the faithful in their care willingly and eagerly, not lording it over them, but by giving example. (1Pt 5:1-4) Around Peter’s shoulders is a golden cloak, symbolizing the Holy Spirit who guides, protects, and enlightens the Church. Peter’s halo is green, a color symbolizing hope; hope for the Church in a broken world.

Beneath Peter’s feet is a boat, with a red cross on its sail. The sail is filled by the wind and it is moving through the waves. A man is seated in the stern of the boat. He is looking forward, but the position of both hands on the rudder suggests that he is working hard, perhaps struggling, to keep the ship on course. The Church is often depicted as a ship in Christian art, and Jesus gave the authority to Peter and his successors, the pope and bishops down through the centuries, to keep the Church on course, true to His teachings. The waves symbolize the difficulties that the Church faces navigating a way through the world and being opposed by those who reject the Gospel message.

The man in the boat is wearing a red garment. Peter’s missionary preaching took him to Rome, the seat of the government, where he was eventually martyred by Nero, the emperor. The red garment symbolizes his martyrdom. It also symbolizes the clash between the life of God in the Church and the forces in the world which oppose it and kill those who are Christians. This clash still goes on, in a world where Christians are martyred every day.

The church above Peter’s head is situated at the top of a mountain. The steep rise of the land is evident behind Peter. The Old Testament temple was built upon the Temple Mount. The Church established by Jesus is the fulfillment of that temple.

A few artistic details add power to this window. One is that the scroll at the bottom of the window with Peter’s name flows back and forth and into the waves, adding to the feeling of movement in the water buffeting the boat. Another is the anatomical detail in Peter’s feet. The phalanges and metatarsals can all be seen on his left foot, and all five toes are seen on both feet. Peter was a fisherman and probably often went barefoot. This attention to detail might also suggest the firm foundation of holy leadership which the church needs, or perhaps Peter’s missionary travels. Similar detail is seen in the hand and finger drawing our attention to the Church above Peter’s head, symbol of the universal Catholic Church throughout the world.

As we reflect on this window let us pray for the Holy Spirit’s protection and guidance for the Church. Let us pray for the Pope, and for the bishops and priests who minister to the Catholic faithful. Let us pray for those who will lose their lives today for their faith. And let us pray that the Spirit would unite believers everywhere as one in love and service to God and each other.


Catholic Church. (1994). Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.