The Bible tells us that King Herod had James killed by the sword (Acts 12:2) but says nothing about the death of Peter, although Jesus made reference to his martyrdom (John 21:18). Is there any evidence to support the tradition that Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome?

The most commonly accepted tradition regarding the death of Paul comes from the writings of Eusebius, an early church historian. Eusebius claimed that Paul was beheaded at the order of the Roman emperor Nero or one of his subordinates. Because Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), he was not crucified. Is there a reliable source of information to confirm how Paul died?

Although John died peacefully as an old man, there is a tradition that he was boiled in a basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome, but miraculously survived. He died in Turkey. Are there any records that support this account of being boiled in oil?

Andrew was severely whipped then crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece, taking two days to die. Is there any record of this event?

Church tradition says that Thomas travelled by sea to India in AD 52. He was later martyred and buried there after witnessing to the Indian people. Is there any historical evidence about this? I suspect that Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260–c. 340) might be the best source of reliable information given his prolific works on church history.

In his Church History or Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius wrote the first surviving history of the Christian Church as a chronologically-ordered account, based on earlier sources, complete from the period of the Apostles to his own epoch.[49] The time scheme correlated the history with the reigns of the Roman Emperors, and the scope was broad. Included were the bishops and other teachers of the Church, Christian relations with the Jews and those deemed heretical, and the Christian martyrs through 324.[50] Although its accuracy and biases have been questioned,[51] it remains an important source on the early church due to Eusebius's access to materials now lost.[52]


Eusebius of Caesarea

Church History (Eusebius)

However, I simply don’t know where to start! Any links to reliable sources would be appreciated. What evidence exists to support church traditions on the persecution and martyrdom of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas and Paul?


3 Answers 3


Foxe's Book of Martyrs used to be considered a standard textbook on the matter, but whether it is still considered so to be, I wouldn't know. It is certainly an excellent source.

It is said (I don't know how true it is) that in England (I assume this refers to the seventeenth century, or so) there were fireplaces in homes that had two niches in them, one each side of the fire.

One niche was for the Authorised Version of the Bible and the other niche was for Foxe's Book of Martyrs.


After trawling through related questions on Christianity Stack I found a link to a Catholic website that provided the following information on what happened to these apostles:

Saint Peter – Catholic Information:

The New Testament says nothing about Peter's life after his presence at the meeting in Jerusalem with James and Paul (Acts 15). Later sources say that Peter went to Rome, was martyred (64-68) under Nero, and buried on Vatican Hill. Evidence concerning his presence, activity, and death in Rome is slight. He took part in the deliberations of the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-31; Gal. 2:1-10) regarding the relation of the Gentiles to the church. This subject had awakened new interest at Antioch, and for its settlement was referred to the council of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Here Paul and Peter met again. We have no further mention of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles... After this he appears to have carried the gospel to the east, and to have laboured for a while at Babylon, on the Euphrates (1 Pet. 5:13). There is no satisfactory evidence that he was ever at Rome. Where or when he died is not certainly known. Probably he died between A.D. 64 and 67. Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txh/peters.htm

St. Paul - Catholic Information:

After 2 years in prison he used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the emperor and was sent to Rome for trial. The Book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest (c.63), still preaching about Jesus... Ancient tradition makes it possible to establish the following points: Paul suffered martyrdom near Rome at a place called Aquae Salviae (now Tre Fontane), somewhat east of the Ostian Way, about two miles from the splendid Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura which marks his burial place. The martyrdom took place towards the end of the reign of Nero, in the twelfth year (St. Epiphanius), the thirteenth (Euthalius), or the fourteenth (St. Jerome). According to the most common opinion, Paul suffered in the same year and on the same day as Peter; several Latin Fathers contend that it was on the same day but not in the same year; the oldest witness, St. Dionysius the Corinthian, says only kata ton auton kairon, which may be translated "at the same time" or "about the same time". Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txo/paul.htm

St. John the Evangelist - Catholic Information:

He suffered under persecution, and was banished to Patmos (1:9); whence he again returned to Ephesus, where he died, probably about A.D. 98, having outlived all or nearly all the friends and companions even of his maturer years. There are many interesting traditions regarding John during his residence at Ephesus, but these cannot claim the character of historical truth. With Eusebius (Hist. eccl., III, xiii, 1) and others we are obliged to place the Apostle's banishment to Patmos in the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). Previous to this, according to Tertullian's testimony (De praescript., xxxvi), John had been thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Porta Latina at Rome without suffering injury. After Domitian's death the Apostle returned to Ephesus during the reign of Trajan, and at Ephesus he died about A.D. 100 at a great age... On the other hand the stories told in the apocryphal Acts of John, which appeared as early as the second century, are unhistorical invention. Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txn/john4.htm

St. Andrew - Catholic Information:

According to a popular but mistaken tradition, Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross. The crossed bars of the Scottish flag are derived from this belief. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and Russia. It is generally agreed that he was crucified by order of the Roman Governor, Aegeas or Aegeates, at Patrae in Achaia, and that he was bound, not nailed, to the cross, in order to prolong his sufferings. The cross on which he suffered is commonly held to have been the decussate cross, now known as St. Andrew's, though the evidence for this view seems to be no older than the fourteenth century. His martyrdom took place during the reign of Nero, on 30 November, A.D. 60); and both the Latin and Greek Churches keep 30 November as his feast. Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txh/andrew5.htm

St. Thomas the Apostle - Catholic Information:

Eusebius of Caesarea records that Thomas became a missionary to Parthia. The Acts of Thomas (3d century), however, states that he was martyred in India. The Malabar Christians claim that their church was founded by him. This tradition can neither be substantiated nor denied on the basis of current evidence. Saint Thomas' Mount in Madras is the traditional site of his martyrdom.

St. Thomas - Coptic Orthodox Information:

Tradition records that Thomas traveled to the east and spread the gospel through Parthia, Persia and India. One tradition has the Savior appearing to Thomas and sending him to India. To get there he hired himself as a slave to an Indian merchant and sailed to India. There he entered the service of King Gondophares. In India he met his death near Bombay, where he was martyred. Death came via a spear or lance which was stabbed through his body while he was kneeling in prayer. Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txh/thomas5.htm

I am pleased to have found this source and I trust it is in order to partially quote from it in order to share this information.


It could be suggested that one try reading the Acta Sanctorum.

In addition to the extraordinary amount of biographical material, extensively researched, the Acta Sanctorum broke new ground in its use of historical criticism.The Bollandist movement began with John Bollandus, a Jesuit who published volumes of saints’ lives at Antwerp in 1643. These volumes did not simply catalogue all the saints commemorated in the (western) church. His aim was to “trim away any repetitions, track down any obvious falsehoods” and in general to edit out things which “turn out to be merely fables”. The work continued after him, with the Bollandists, who continue to research the lives of saints with a great amount of scholarship. And their work is not of merely academic interest: When they concluded that a certain saint's lives were dubious, the Church suppressed them from the Roman calendar.

The Bollandists or Bollandist Society are an association of scholars, philologists, and historians (originally all Jesuits, but now including non-Jesuits) who since the early seventeenth century have studied hagiography and the cult of the saints in Christianity. Their most important publication has been the Acta Sanctorum (The Lives of the Saints). They are named after Jean Bolland or Bollandus (1596–1665).

Acta Sanctorum

The idea of the Acta Sanctorum was first conceived by the Dutch Jesuit Heribert Rosweyde (1569–1629), who was a lecturer at the Jesuit college of Douai. Rosweyde used his leisure time to collect information about the lives of the saints. His principal work, the 1615 Vitae Patrum, became the foundation of the Acta Sanctorum. Rosweyde contracted a contagious disease while ministering to a dying man, and died himself on October 5, 1629, at the age of sixty.

Father Jean Bolland was prefect of studies in the Jesuit college of Mechelen. Upon the death of Rosweyde, Bolland was asked to review Rosweyde's papers. Bolland then continued the work from .

The Bollandists or Bollandist Society are an association of scholars, philologists, and historians (originally all Jesuits, but now including non-Jesuits) who since the early seventeenth century have studied hagiography and the cult of the saints in Christianity. Their most important publication has been the Acta Sanctorum (The Lives of the Saints). They are named after Jean Bolland or Bollandus (1596–1665).

The task was to search out and classify materials, to print what seemed to be the most reliable sources of information concerning the saints venerated by the Church and to illustrate points of difficulty. Underestimating the magnitude of the undertaking, Bolland initially thought he could finish the work on his own, but after a few years he had to admit that the undertaking was beyond his individual strength. He was then assigned an assistant, Godfrey Henschen or Henschenius (1601–81). The first two volumes of the Acta, by Bolland and Henschen, were published in Antwerp in 1643.

Unlike Rosweyde and Bolland, Henschen was allowed to devote himself exclusively to the writing of the Acta. He solved many problems relating to chronology, geography and the philological interpretation of the sources. February, March, and April took up three volumes each, May covered eight, and June seven volumes. By the time of his death, 24 volumes had appeared; moreover, Henschen left many notes and commentaries for the following volumes. It can therefore be said that the Acta owe their final form to Henschen.

In 1659, Bolland and Henschen were joined by Daniel van Papenbroeck or Papebrochius (1628–1714), who devoted fifty-five years of his life to the Acta. From July 1660 until December 1662, Henschen and van Papenbroeck travelled through Germany, Italy and France in order to collect copies of hagiographic manuscripts. Another Bollandist of this period was Jean Gamans.

The Bollandists' studies led to the texts of the Missale Romanum, the Liturgia Horarum and the Martyrologium referring to Mary of Magdala. These studies were positively cited in Pope Francis' granting of a feast day to this saint.

One can read the Acta Sanctorum in Latin here.

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