Who holds the Guinness record for fastest track to canonization?

By April 20, 2018Articles
Who holds the Guinness record for fastest track to canonization?

Ok, there isn’t such a thing, but if there were, St. Peter Martyr would probably have the title.

In many cases, centuries pass between a saint’s death and canonization. By contrast, some saints, such as Teresa of Calcutta, have enjoyed a quick track to sainthood. But not even Teresa’s canonization was as rapid as that of Peter of Verona, aka St. Peter Martyr, who was canonized in March 1253, less than one year after his violent death.

Now highly regulated, the canonization process in that era was less elaborate, though sainthood still was no easy achievement, and many who were proposed for sainthood failed to attain canonization. The first instance of a pope canonizing a saint took place in the year 993, and “papal canonization was a relative novelty” in Peter’s era, writes Donald Prudlo in his book The Martyred Inquisitor: The Life and Cult of Peter of Verona.

Born in about the year 1205, Peter entered a middle-class family in Verona in northern Italy, a region which had long seen political turmoil and violent conflict. A considerable part of this tumult resulted from hostility between the Catholic Church and breakaway religious sects, such as the heretical Cathars.

Though Peter had relatives who subscribed to Cathar teachings, his family paid for him to receive an education from Catholic instructors. When he was a young man, he enrolled at the University at Bologna. His family was expecting him to pursue a career in law or government, but while he was at Bologna, he began embracing his Catholic faith and joined the newly established Dominican order. He was ordained as a priest in the year 1228 or 1229.

Among Peter’s achievements was the establishment of a volunteer ambulance service that continues to operate to this day. He additionally began to acquire a reputation as a mesmerizing public speaker. And the focus of his most impassioned preaching was against heretical sects, such as the Cathars, whom the Dominicans in particular regarded as anathema.

For his oratory effectiveness, Peter gained significant status in the Church and was eventually made an inquisitor for the Lombardy region of Italy. This product of a Cathar background was now the most prominent anti-Cathar in his homeland, and in the eyes of many he “could not have presented a more hateful spectacle,” writes Prudlo. And so Peter’s enemies began hatching a plan to silence him.

On April 6, 1252, at the outskirts of Milan, an assassin acting on behalf of the Cathars ambushed Peter with a machete-like instrument called a falcastrum. Legend has it that Peter muttered the Apostle’s Creed in the moments between when he was first injured and when his assassin delivered the death blow.

Some sources contend that the dying Peter dipped his fingers into his wounds and used his own blood to write the opening words of the Apostle’s Creed (“Credo in Deum”) on the ground. Such a highly dramatic account is likely apocryphal. Either way, Peter’s travel companion, a fellow Dominican, was also severely injured and succumbed to his wounds several days later.

The assassin, Carino of Balsamo, managed to escape. He later repented for his murderous ways and entered a Dominican monastery, where until the end of his life he remained a devoted lay penitent.

Though the murdered Peter had many enemies, he also enjoyed a local cult of ardent supporters. And miracles had been attributed to him even while he was alive. Moreover, to the Church hierarchy, his outspoken life and violent demise provided a compelling example of a fallen fighter against heretics.

On March 9, 1253, just 337 days after his death, Peter of Verona was canonized by Pope Innocent IV. The previous record for fastest canonization had belonged to Anthony of Padua, who officially entered sainthood 352 days after his death in June 1231.

Peter was buried in Milan’s Basilica of St. Eustorgius, where his relics are contained along with his head, which still shows evidence of the cranial wounds he suffered. Owing to the circumstances of his death, he is often depicted with a knife stuck in his head, and his patronage extends to headache sufferers.

Peter’s death date of April 6 was not used for his feast day because it might conflict with Easter. So his feast day was placed on April 29, and the Church celebrated it universally until 1969, when he was removed from the calendar.

Peter’s record for having the fastest track to sainthood has stood for nearly 800 years. And as modern-day canonization is now such a sophisticated process – involving extensive investigation of the candidate’s background, holiness, and legitimacy of purported miracles – Peter’s record is likely to stand for another eight centuries, at least.

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