Peter the Aleut

Peter the Aleut

Overview
Cungagnaq is venerated as a martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

 and saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 (as Peter the Aleut) by some jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

. He was allegedly a native of Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island is a large island on the south coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, separated from the Alaska mainland by the Shelikof Strait. The largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago, Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States and the 80th largest island in the world, with an...

 (Aleutian Islands), and is said to have received the Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 name of Peter when he was baptized into the Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 faith by the monks of St. Herman
Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska was one of the first Eastern Orthodox missionaries to the New World, and is considered by Orthodox Christians to be the patron saint of the Americas.-Biography:Saint Herman was born in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese around 1756...

's missionaries
Missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 operating in the north. He is purported to have been captured by Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 soldiers near San Pedro
San Pedro y San Pablo Asistencia
The San Pedro y San Pablo Asistencia was established in 1786, as a "sub-mission" to Mission San Francisco de Asís in the San Pedro Valley at the Ohlone village of Pruristac...

 (Pacifica, California
Pacifica, California
Pacifica is a city in San Mateo County, California, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay.-Overview:The City of Pacifica is spread along a six mile stretch of the north central California coastal beach and hills, nestled in several small valleys spanning between...

) and tortured and killed at the instigation of Roman Catholic priests either there or at Mission Dolores, in San Francisco.
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Encyclopedia
Cungagnaq is venerated as a martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

 and saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 (as Peter the Aleut) by some jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

. He was allegedly a native of Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island is a large island on the south coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, separated from the Alaska mainland by the Shelikof Strait. The largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago, Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States and the 80th largest island in the world, with an...

 (Aleutian Islands), and is said to have received the Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 name of Peter when he was baptized into the Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 faith by the monks of St. Herman
Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska was one of the first Eastern Orthodox missionaries to the New World, and is considered by Orthodox Christians to be the patron saint of the Americas.-Biography:Saint Herman was born in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese around 1756...

's missionaries
Missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 operating in the north. He is purported to have been captured by Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 soldiers near San Pedro
San Pedro y San Pablo Asistencia
The San Pedro y San Pablo Asistencia was established in 1786, as a "sub-mission" to Mission San Francisco de Asís in the San Pedro Valley at the Ohlone village of Pruristac...

 (Pacifica, California
Pacifica, California
Pacifica is a city in San Mateo County, California, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay.-Overview:The City of Pacifica is spread along a six mile stretch of the north central California coastal beach and hills, nestled in several small valleys spanning between...

) and tortured and killed at the instigation of Roman Catholic priests either there or at Mission Dolores, in San Francisco. At the time identified for his death, California
Alta California
Alta California was a province and territory in the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later a territory and department in independent Mexico. The territory was created in 1769 out of the northern part of the former province of Las Californias, and consisted of the modern American states of California,...

 was Spanish territory, and Spain was worried about Russian
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 advances southwards from Alaska
Russian Alaska
Russian America was the name of Russian colonial possessions in the Americas from 1733 to 1867 that today is the U.S. state of Alaska and settlements farther south in California and Hawaii...

. Hubert Howe Bancroft
Hubert Howe Bancroft
Hubert Howe Bancroft was an American historian and ethnologist who wrote and published works concerning the western United States, Texas, Mexico, Central America, British Columbia and Alaska.-Biography:...

, in his multi-volume History of California, only notes that, in connection with an incident wherein a Russian fur-hunting expedition was taken into custody after declining to leave San Pedro, one Russian source accused "the Spaniards of cruelty to the captives, stating that according to Kuskof’s report one Aleut who refused to become a Catholic died from ill-treatment received from the padre at San Francisco."

Martyrdom


According to the most fully developed version of the story, in 1815 a group of Russian employees of the Russian American Company and their Aleut seal and otter
Otter
The Otters are twelve species of semi-aquatic mammals which feed on fish and shellfish, and also other invertebrates, amphibians, birds and small mammals....

 hunters, including Peter, was captured by Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 soldiers, while hunting illicitly for seals near San Pedro. According to the original account, the soldiers took them to Misión San Pedro y Pablo
San Pedro y San Pablo Asistencia
The San Pedro y San Pablo Asistencia was established in 1786, as a "sub-mission" to Mission San Francisco de Asís in the San Pedro Valley at the Ohlone village of Pruristac...

for interrogation
Interrogation
Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information. Subjects of interrogation are often the suspects, victims, or witnesses of a crime...

. One Russian source states that after being taken prisoner near modern Los Angeles, the captives were taken to Mission Dolores—that is, modern San Francisco. With threats of torture, the Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 priests attempted to force the Aleuts to deny their Orthodox faith and to convert to Roman Catholicism.

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 peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

, indigenous to California, to cut off each finger of Peter's hands, one joint at a time, finally removing both his hands. 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.

Historicity


An account of the martyrdom of Peter the Aleut is contained in a lengthy letter written on Nov. 22, 1865, by Symeon Ivanovich Yanovsky to Damascene, abbot of the Valaam Monastery in Russia. Yanovsky (1789–1876), who is also one of the chief sources of information about St. Herman of Alaska
Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska was one of the first Eastern Orthodox missionaries to the New World, and is considered by Orthodox Christians to be the patron saint of the Americas.-Biography:Saint Herman was born in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese around 1756...

, was chief manager of the Russian colonies from 1818-1820. In the letter he was reporting on an incident that he had heard from a supposed eyewitness, and that had taken place in 1815, that is, a half a century earlier. The letter contains the description of Peter being tortured by "Jesuits": the Jesuit order had been suppressed in 1773, and had only been reconstituted in 1814. There were in 1815 no Jesuits within a thousand miles of California. There were Franciscans in California at the time. Yanovsky adds, "At the time I reported all this to the Head Office in St. Petersburg." And indeed, this earlier communication, his official dispatch to the company's main office—dated Feb. 15, 1820, five years after the event—also relates the story of St. Peter's martyrdom, albeit with different details.

Veneration


According to Yanovsky's 1865 letter, upon receiving the report of Peter's death, St. Herman
Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska was one of the first Eastern Orthodox missionaries to the New World, and is considered by Orthodox Christians to be the patron saint of the Americas.-Biography:Saint Herman was born in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese around 1756...

 back on Kodiak Island was moved to cry out, "Holy new-martyr Peter, pray to God for us!"

Peter the Aleut was formally glorified as a Saint by the Orthodox Church in America
Orthodox Church in America
The Orthodox Church in America is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox church in North America. Its primate is Metropolitan Jonah , who was elected on November 12, 2008, and was formally installed on December 28, 2008...

 as the "Martyr of San Francisco" in 1980. His feast day is commemorated on September 24.

There are a number of churches dedicated to him in North America, for example at Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

; Minot, North Dakota
North Dakota
North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

; Calgary
Calgary
Calgary is a city in the Province of Alberta, Canada. It is located in the south of the province, in an area of foothills and prairie, approximately east of the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies...

; and Abita Springs, Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

.

Sources

  • 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 Captivity 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).

External links