stpeter2.jpg (38194 bytes) Saint Peter the Aleut

      A native of Kodiak Island, Cungagnaq had been baptized by the monks of St. Herman's missionary party, receiving the Christian name Peter.
      In 1815, a party of 14 Aleut seal and otter hunter, including Peter approached the California shore by ship.  The Russian-American Trading Company had in 1812 established Fort Ross (derived from the word "Russia") about 50 miles north of San Francisco as a warm climate trading post and as a place to raise crops and cattle to support the communities in Alaska.  At that time, Spain still owned California, and some Spaniards perhaps thought that Russia was planning to attack and take possession of San Francisco.
      When, therefore, Peter and his party of young fur trappers approached near Fort Ross, Spanish sailors captured them and took them to San Francisco for a mock trial.  Roman Catholic priests in California tried to force the Aleut hunters to embrace Roman Catholicism.  The prisoners answered, "We are Christians; we have been baptized," and they showed their baptismal crosses.  "No, you are heretics and schismatics," replied one of the priests.  "If you do not agree to take the Catholic Faith we will toruture you," and they were told to think it over.

      Returning a while later, the priests found that the Aleuts again refused to renounce Orthodoxy.  They took Peter and cut off a toe from each foot, but Peter simply repeated, "I am a Christian; I will not betray my Faith."  The Spanish priest-inquisitor ordered a group of California Indians to cut off each finger of Peter's hands, one joint at a time, eventually cutting off his hands altogether.  Finally, he ordered that Peter be disemboweled.  Peter quickly died as a result of the tortures, witnessing to his Faith in God to his last breath.   Just as they were ready to start on the next Aleut, the Spaniards received an order to stop the proceedinggs.  This eyewitness account of Peter's martyrdom is told by some of his comrades who were eventually released.
      When the incident was reported to St. Herman, back on Kodiak Island, the monk turned to his icon, crossed himself and exclaimed, "Holy, new-martyr Peter, pray to God for us!"  Peter the Aleut was formally glorified as a saint, as the "Martyr of San Francisco;" in 1980.  His feast day is commemorated on September 24.


Posted 10-22-99