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Mamertine Prison: Saint Peter’s Infamous Incarceration Cell

The Mamertine Prison, also known as the Carcere Mamertino by the Italians, is a prison built at the sprawling foot of the Capitoline Hill in ancient Rome. It was the only prison built in the land. Unlike today’s prison cells, the Mamertine Prison was reportedly more like an underground dungeon where the state prisoners were kept before their execution.

Since it was the only place of its kind in the Roman empire, historians claimed that it was the final destination of some of the biggest names in history, including Saint Peter.

The Origins Of Mamertine Prison

Ancient writers like historian Titus Livius Patavinus talked about the Mamertine Prison’s existence since the 7th Century BC. It was reportedly built under the reign of Ancus Marcius, the fourth Roman King, sometime between 640 to 616 BC.

The lower room of the prison is called the Tullianum, named after its builder, Servius Tullius. It was used as a place for detention and execution for criminals during ancient times. According to historian Sallust, the Tullianum was constructed 12 feet underground and described as a place filled with darkness, stench, and neglect, making it a hideous place to stay.

Saint Peter’s Time At The Mamertine Prison

History long believed that Saint Peter spent time at the Mamertine Prison before his execution in 64 AD. According to reports, the first pope of the Catholic Church was one of the prisoners at the Tullianum.

Several accounts claimed that a spring miraculously appeared at the dungeon’s bottom pit to let Saint Peter baptize his fellow prisoners. But another report from Catholic Encyclopedia claimed that the spring was already existing before the church leader was lowered down to the dungeon.

Today, a small altar was built at the Mamertine Prison’s lower chamber with a relief showing Saint Peter while baptizing the other prisoners. An inverted cross was also placed in front of the altar to symbolize the upside-down crucifixion of the Catholic saint.

Other Famous Prisoners Of The Mamertine Prison

Aside from Saint Peter, historical accounts also claimed that Saint Paul was also imprisoned in the dungeon of Mamertine. Former prison guards turned saints Martinian and Processus also spent time in the dungeon after Peter baptized them.

Political leaders like Gaius Pontius, Vercingetorix, and Simon bar Giora also spent time at the Mamertine. They all awaited their execution at the dark and damp dungeon.

The famous chapel located in the dungeons of the Mamertine Prison. It was built in honor of one of its most popular prisoners, Saint Peter.

The Mamertine Prison Today

During the 8th century, the Catholic Church converted the prison into a place of worship since plenty of pilgrims visited the area to pray for Saint Peter. By the 16th century, a couch in honor of St. Joseph of the Carpenters was constructed on top of the prison site.

Pilgrims will see a set of modern steps that will lead them down towards the upper level of the prison. The entire floor, which used to be the original ground level of the ancient prison, is constructed in a trapezoidal shape. Meanwhile, the lower room can be reached using a modern staircase.


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