Peter the Aleut

Peter the Aleut

Infobox Saint
name= Saint Peter the Aleut
birth_date=Circa 1800
feast_day= September 24
venerated_in= Eastern Orthodox Church

imagesize= 250px
caption= Peter is alleged to have been killed at Mission Dolores, California.
death_place=Mission Dolores, San Francisco, California ("disputed")
titles=Martyr of San Francisco
attributes=portrayed as an Aleut youth, wearing a traditional gut parka [ [ Icon: St. Peter the Aleut ] ]

Cungagnaq (Born circa 1800 - d. 1815) is venerated as a martyr and saint (as Peter the Aleut) by the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was presumably a native of Kodiak Island (Aleutian Islands), and is said to have received the Christian name of Peter when he was baptized into the Orthodox faith by the monks of St. Herman's missionaries operating in the north. [ [ St. Peter the Aleut ] ] He is alleged to have been captured by Spanish sailors near Fort Ross and tortured and killed at the instigation of Roman Catholic priests at Mission Dolores [ [ McNichols Icon: St. Peter the Aleut and St. Andrew Bobola, SJ ] ] , near San Francisco. [ [ Saint Peter the Aleut ] ] At the time of his death, California was Spanish territory, and Spain was worried about Russian advances southwards from Alaska. [ [ Saint Peter the Aleut ] ] The historicity of Peter's death and the manner of his death remain a matter of dispute. Hubert Howe Bancroft, in his multi-volume "History of California", writes that Russian sources accused "the Spaniards of cruelty to the captives, stating that according to Kuskof’s [Ivan Kuskov was a sailor and official associated with the Russian-American Company] report one Aleut who refused to become a Catholic died from ill-treatment received from the padre at San Francisco. The Spanish records are somewhat voluminous on this affair, but not very important, being largely repetitions of the same statements by different officials or minor details respecting the transportation or examination of the captives." [Hubert Howe Bancroft, "History of California" (The History Company, 1885), 308n.]


In 1815 a group of Aleut seal and otter hunters, including Peter, was captured by Spanish sailors, who took them to Los Angeles for interrogation (some evidence points to a Southern California connection because the group was captured off San Pedro - a well known landmark offering a harbor for Los Angeles, although some modern sources claim the capture occurred near San Francisco) [ [ Saint Peter the Aleut ] ] With threats of torture, the Roman Catholic priests attempted to force the Aleuts to deny their Orthodox faith and to convert to Roman Catholicism. [ [ St. Peter the Aleut ] ]

When the Aleuts refused, the priest had a toe severed from each of Peter's feet. Peter still refused to renounce his faith and the Spanish priest ordered a group of Native Americans indigenous to California to cut off each finger of Peter's hands, one joint at a time, finally removing both his hands. [ [ St. Peter the Aleut ] ] They eventually disemboweled him, making him a martyr to the Eastern Orthodox faith. They were about to torture the next Aleut when orders were received to release them.


The account of the martyrdom of St. Peter the Aleut is contained in a lengthy letter written on Nov. 22, 1865, by Semyon Ivanovich Yanovsky to Damascene, abbot of the Valaam Monastery in Russia. [For a translation of the letter, see "The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837", cited below, pp. 80-89.] Yanovsky (1789-1876), who is also one of the chief sources of information about St. Herman of Alaska, was chief manager of the Russian colonies from 1818-1820. In the letter he was reporting on an incident that had taken place in 1815, that is, a half a century earlier; he adds, "At the time I reported all this to the Head Office in St. Petersburg." And indeed, the latter communication, his official dispatch to the company's main office, dated Feb. 15, 1820, also relates the story of St. Peter's martyrdom. [See "The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837", cited below, p. 177.] Having himself been profoundly affected by his acquaintance with St. Herman, he spent the latter part of his lifetime in a Russian monastery. [See "The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837", p. 181.]

Another witness is a Russian-Alaskan of more dubious reputation, perhaps with the name of Keglii IvanFact|date=December 2007). It should be noted that no similar occurrence ever took place in the history of the Spanish mission in CaliforniaFact|date=December 2007. Bancroft, in his multi-volume "History of California", briefly notes this story, as mentioned above.

This story is perhaps much more a statement of the distrust and competition that was transpiring between Russian and Spanish interests along the California coast line. It is also very reflective of similar stories that have become part of the hagiography of Christendom throughout the centuries (e.g. St. Victorinus - feast day: February 25, d. 284; St. Arcadius; Sts. Anastasia and Cyril [ [ St. Anastasia II - Catholic Online ] ] ; Saint James Intercisus). There are, however, numerous accounts of Russians and Aleuts who escaped brutal treatment aboard Russian ships to the relative safety of the Spanish missions, some of whom even accepted baptism, [ [ General Information ] ] for example, at Mission San Buenaventura. Bancroft also confirms this. [Hubert Howe Bancroft, "History of California" (The History Company, 1885), 308.]


According to tradition, upon receiving the report of Peter's death, St. Herman back on Kodiak Island was moved to cry out, "Holy new-martyr Peter, pray to God for us!") [ [ Saint Peter the Aleut ] ]

Peter the Aleut was formally declared a Saint as the "Martyr of San Francisco" in 1980. His feast day is commemorated in the Orthodox faith on September 24.

There are a number of churches dedicated to him in North America, for example at Minot, North Dakota [ [ OCA - Parish Listings ] ] ; Calgary [ [ OCA - Parish Listings ] ] ; Abita Springs, Louisiana. [ [ Saint Peter the Aleut Orthodox Mission, Southeast Louisiana ] ]


External links

* [ Saint Peter the Aleut]
* [ Peter the Aleut]
* [ Peter the Aleut] (painted icon)


*Bancroft, Hubert Howe, "History of California 1801-1824 vol II" (History Company, 1886).
*Farris, Glenn, "The Strange Tale of Saint Peter, the Aleut: A Russian Orthodox Martyr on the California Frontier". Paper presented at "The Spanish Missions and California Indians Symposium," D-Q University, 3 March 1990.
*Ogden, Adele, "The California Sea Otter Trade 1784-1848" (Berkeley: University of California Publications in History, 26).
*"The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, with Materials Concerning the Life and Works of the Monk German, and Ethnographic Notes by the Hieromonk Gedeon." Originally published in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1894. Translated from the Russian by Colin Bearne; ed. by Richard A. Pierce (Kingston, Ont., Canada: Limestone Press, 1978).
*Tarakanoff, Vassili Petrovitch, "Statement of My Capitivity Among the Californians" (Los Angeles: Glen Dawson Press, 1953).
*Tikhmenev, P.A, "A History of the Russian-American Company. Translated and edited by Richard Pierce and Alton Donnelly" (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1978).

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