Peter and Paul, the two greatest leaders of the early Church, are commemorated separately, Peter on January 18, for his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and Paul on January 25, for his conversion, but they are commemorated together on June 29 in observance of the tradition of the Church that they both died as martyrs in Rome during the persecution under Nero, in 64.
Paul, the well-educated and cosmopolitan Jew of the Dispersion, and Peter, the uneducated fisherman from Galilee, had differences of opinion in the early years of the Church concerning the mission to the Gentiles. More than once, Paul speaks of rebuking Peter for
his continued insistence on Jewish exclusiveness; yet their common commitment to Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel proved stronger than their differences; and both eventually carried that mission to Rome, where they were martyred. According to tradition, Paul was granted the right of a Roman citizen to be beheaded by a sword, but Peter suffered the fate of his Lord, crucifixion, though with head downward.
A generation after their martyrdom, Clement of Rome, writing to the Church in Corinth, probably in 96 A.D., says: “Let us come to those who have most recently proved champions; let us take up the noble examples of our own generation. Because of jealousy and envy the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and competed unto death. Let us bring before our eyes the good apostles—Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy endured not one or two, but numerous trials, and so bore a martyr’s witness and went to the glorious place that he deserved. Because of jealousy and strife Paul pointed the way to the reward of endurance; seven times he was imprisoned, he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a preacher in both east and west, and won renown for his faith, teaching uprightness to the whole world, and reaching the farthest limit of the west, and bearing a martyr’s witness before the rulers, he passed out of the world and was taken up into the holy place, having proved a very great example of endurance.”