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Art. 7, Passioun seint Piere: Introduction

A keen interest in the disciple Peter — recipient of heaven’s keys, symbol of the Church — becomes a distinct feature of Harley 2253’s booklet 2, for after Peter assumes a headline role in the extract from Herman de Valenciennes’ Bible (art. 2), it is Peter’s life that concludes the booklet. Jacobus de Voragine sums up his appeal in simple terms: “Peter the apostle stood out among and above the other apostles” (The Golden Legend, trans. Ryan, 1:340). In particular, Herman’s Bible highlights Peter as the stark opposite of Judas — a contrast also stressed by Voragine: “[Peter] wanted to know who the Lord’s betrayer was, because, as Augustine says, if he had known, he would have torn the individual apart with his teeth. Therefore Christ would not name the traitor, because, as Chrysostom says, Peter would have risen up and killed him immediately” (1:340). Impulsively fierce and emotional in his loyalty to Christ, yet undone by his fearful denials, Peter exhibits psychological complexity in Herman’s dramatic depiction.

In the Anglo-Norman Passion of Saint Peter inscribed here, the story’s interest points differently. One discovers other figures in contrastive parallel to Peter: first, a false magician who pretends to be God, and, second, Jesus. Peter (also known as Simon Peter) confronts the challenge of the false enchanter Simon Magus, imitator of Jesus’ miracles, who exerts an evil hold over the Roman Emperor Nero and his people. Returning to a narrative thread embedded in The Letter of Pilate to Emperor Claudius (art. 3b), this legend fleshes it out with more stories of Simon’s deceptions and then an account of Peter’s martyrdom by upside-down crucifixion. Once Peter has decisively exposed the demonic tricks of Simon — who, pretending to “arise,” falls to his death — the apostle then fulfils his own refracted likeness to Jesus. He will receive the same means of execution, yet humbly inverted. Presaged by a mystic meeting with Christ at the gate, Saint Peter’s martyrdom on a cross signals the apostle’s exceptional status, that is, the high esteem granted him by Christ.

[Fols. 47vb–48vb. ANL 546 (4). Scribe: A, with title inserted by B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 4. Initials: Unfilled space for opening initial A (six lines high). Layout: Two columns. Editions: D. Russell 1989, pp. 107–13. Other MSS: Paris, BnF MS français 19525, fols. 41ra–42rb (ed. D. Russell 1989, pp. 106–12); London, BL MS Egerton 2710, fols. 142v–143v (ed. D. Russell 1989, pp. 65–77); Manchester, John Rylands Library MS French 6, fols. 1r–2r. Picard Version: Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal 3516, fols. 65r–66r. Latin Analogue: Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. Ryan, 1:341–50. Translations: None.]

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