Frescoes of Paul’s Ministry, Part 33: Paul in the Mamertine Prison

Paul in the Mamertine Prison, Franscesco Coghetti Philippians 1:12 - 14

Paul in the Mamertine Prison, Franscesco Coghetti Philippians 1:12 – 14

Philippians 1:12 – 14

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result,  it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard, and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.



As the Acts of the Apostle does not chronicle more details about Paul’s imprisonment. Other sources relay these accounts, tangential, such as Paul’s comments in some of his letter’s, or church tradition by writers who may have not directly known Jesus or the Apostles (1).    For the story of Paul’s and Peter’s imprisonment, tradition gives us more details, should we choose to believe them.

The small pink building behind the arch

The small pink building behind the arch

In the passage from Philippians, Paul refers to imprisonment and being in chains.  Tradition places this in the Mamertine Prison next to the Roman Forum.  This is just outside the fenced-in ruins of the Roman Forum today, uphill from the Arch of Septimius Severus .  Of course, it was made into a church as one time and is now a tourist attraction.

The story goes that while in the prison, a crack in the floor allowed water to enter the prison cell.  Peter and Paul used this to baptize fellow prisoners who heard their stories of Jesus and became followers.  Given that the Roman Forum is a low point in Rome and has several aquifers forming springs in the Forum area, a leaky prison floor would be very possible.  What is significant about this story is that Peter and Paul witness about Jesus where ever they are and under any circumstance.  The telling of the Gospel is not just in comfortable homes and churches.

We see Paul on the right, now an old man, half risen from kneeling down to fill a scallop shell with water from the spring in the floor.  A man, with his cloak pulled down from his torso, kneels awaiting the baptism.  Two other men, appeared to be in prayer, or possibly a praising stance, witness the event.  Paralleling, these curving postures are two cloud forms above the, with a ray of light coming from an unseen source above.  This image brings us back to the fresco of Saul’s baptism.

(1) In general, the canonical scriptures of the New Testament were considered by 4th and 5th century church leaders to be those from witnesses of Jesus’ and the Apostle’s ministries. These texts are accepted as being written mostly in the later half of the 1st century. There are several other Gospels and Gnostic writings from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, but these are considered to be the writing down of oral histories, thus several degrees of separation removed from those who may have actually began the stories.  I have read the Gospel of Thomas, which to me appeared to be a fragmented compilation of “out-takes”, some of which incidents or proverbs that are included in one or more of the four Evangelist’s narratives’ of Jesus’ life, but which do not present a cohesive story, moral code, nor theological statement in itself.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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8 Responses to Frescoes of Paul’s Ministry, Part 33: Paul in the Mamertine Prison

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Beautiful & Happy New Year! 🍷🎊🎈🎉🍻🎆💃

  2. Happy new year, Oscar.
    A question for you: will you put these pots together in a book? It’s such interesting material and would interest many people. Paul is such an intriguing guy.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Ah, you stroke my ego :).

      I have no plans other than to leave them for others to discover on the internet. I have had a couple of folks find them by doing internet searches, thus they are available in that mysterious world of the Internet.

      I would also be concerned, on a technical point, that most churches have signs saying that photography is allowed only for personal use. This implies that any commercial plans (e.g. taking photos to publish for sale, such as in a book) needs to go through the order that runs the church. I do not want to get into any legal issues with intellectual property rights… what a concept… Would Paul’s letters be available to use 2000 years later if he squabbled over intellectual property rights? Well, the world of man and of God are separated, shall we say by the Law and Grace. 😉 If you, or your publisher, know more about this process, I’m willing to consider options.

      I have kept my New Year’s plan to finish reading Moby Dick and start reading your second memoir, An Honest House. I can invision you and Hamlin sitting in our rocking chairs by the wood stove sharing your stories. Delightful.

      Stay warm from November to April, with good friends, neighbors, and family.

      • I hear you. The separation of Law and Grace, indeed. A pity, though. It would be good to have your posts all in one place, and to give as a gift to others. Especially at this time when some forces are waging war against “The Paulian doctrine”, trying to firmly separate him out from Jesus’ teachings for solely political reasons. I see much the same occasionally happening to the present pope whenever his comments hew too closely to Jesus’ or Paul’s for that matter. Thank you VERY much for reading my book, Oscar. That’s an honour and I’m grateful.

      • hermitsdoor says:

        I am not connected much with the theology or politics of the church and its various denominational squabbles. If I were truly a hermit, I would be one of those Irish ones living in a stone tower or cave, or on Skellig Micheal copying ancient texts that were spirited away from Rome for protection (I got a great chuckle when last year’s Star War’s movie found Luke Skywalker on Skellig Micheal, which is off the Dingle Peninsula, and I could lean over to my wife and say, “Hey, we’ve been to the Jedi Temple” and then find out that I was right.) If I recall correctly, the oldest copy of Paul’s letter to the Romans was hidden in Ireland and still kept there. Read well. Think independently.

      • Hidden figures, I meant. Ah … I’m quite tired.

      • hermitsdoor says:

        Linda is reading that book now. We anticipate that our local movie theater will run it in a few weeks. Thanks for the other message. Just read about the Library. Another chapter or two with tea. Good night.

      • Ah, the Library. Good night to you too.

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