Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, June 30, 2005

St. Peter’s Yellow Keys

In much of the Catholic world, June 29 is celebrated as the feast of St. Peter: fisherman, coward, concierge, and Pope.

imageSt. Peter with his key

The Vatican

So many of the Catholic saints are, if you’ll excuse me, too saintly. Long on suffering, short on humor, they seem just raring to be tortured and don their wings.

St. Peter is lots more appealing. He was a hothead who liked to fish. After swearing his faith up and down, he fell asleep rather than praying, and when the squeeze was on, replied to the centurions “Jesus who?” What a wimp, and who better to be “a fisher of men”?

imageA statue of San Pedro

receives a flower shower

Lima, Peru

Photo: Pilar Olivare, for Reuters

June 29th is St. Peter’s Day, often celebrated in conjunction with the more pious St. Paul, whose feast day is today. In Latin America, San Pedro is especially revered by contemporary fishermen and his celebration tends to be nautical. In Mexcaltitan, on the western coast of Mexico, two canoes race, “manned by the images of St. Paul and St. Peter. If St. Peter wins, tradition and old belief assure a good shrimp season.”

Peter is also weather wise. “Legends ascribe thunder and lightning to some activity of Saint Peter in Heaven (usually bowling). When it snows, he is ‘shaking out his feather bed.’ He sends rain and sunshine, hangs out the stars at night and takes them in again in the morning.” In command of so much celestial force, Peter receives prayers from farmers too.

Many flowers have been associated with St. Peter, among them hypericum quadrangulum (a.k.a. St. John’s Wort) and saponaria officinalis (Soapwort). Plants with especially hairy stems were considered herbs of Peter.

imageCowslips, Primula veris

Photo: Association de Mycologues Pharmaciens

One of the flowers most closely associated with him is cowslip, primula veris. Not only are the leaves Peterishly bristly, the stalk and flowers resemble his main attribute: the keys he holds both to the Mother church and the gates of Heaven. Herb Peter, Keyflower, and Our Lady’s Keys all refer to this same lovely plant, once common in the British Isles.

One botany site describes cowslip flowers as examples of heterostyly, “when a plant species has two or more different positional arrangements of its anthers and stigma(s), a genetic polymorphism providing a physical mechanism to promote outbreeding - which natural selection has determined is generally a ‘good thing.’” In other words, when flowers poke out in lots of different directions, jangling as a janitor’s (or Pope’s) set of keys, that’s heterostyly.

imageThe Vatican’s


Image: Al Zanetti

In pointing out Simon Peter’s less than holy traits, we mean no disrespect. On the contrary, his combination of ardent devotion and sleepyheadedness, conviction and doubt amount to heterostyly in human form. He was just the one to “promote outbreeding,” and spread the message. He was a flip-flopper, and that turned out to be “a good thing.”

Posted by Julie on 06/30 at 02:11 PM
Religious RitualsPermalink