Peter the Aleut
|Saint Peter the Aleut|
Icon of St. Peter the Aleut
|Martyr of San Francisco and Protomartyr of America|
|Born||c. 1800|
|Honored in||Eastern Orthodox Church|
|Canonized||1980 by Orthodox Church in America|
|Attributes||portrayed as an Aleut youth, wearing a traditional gut parka|
Cungagnaq (date of birth unknown - d. 1815) is venerated as a martyr and saint (as Peter the Aleut) by some jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was allegedly a native of Kodiak Island (Alutiiq or Sugpiaq), and is said to have received the Christian name of Peter when he was baptized into the Orthodox faith by the monks of St. Herman's missionaries operating in the north. He is purported to have been captured by Spanish soldiers near San Pedro (Pacifica, California) 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 was Spanish territory, and Spain was worried about Russian advances southwards from Alaska. Hubert Howe Bancroft, 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."
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 hunters, including Peter, was captured by Spanish soldiers, while hunting illicitly for seals near San Pedro. According to the original account, the soldiers took them to Misión San Pedro y Pablo for interrogation. 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 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 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.
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 Finland. Yanovsky (1789–1876), who is also one of the chief sources of information about St. Herman of Alaska, 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 fifty years earlier in 1815. The letter contains the description of Peter being tortured by "Jesuits" but this would have been virtually impossible, as the Jesuit order had been suppressed in 1773, and had only been reconstituted in 1814 (one year before Peter's death). In 1815 there were no Jesuits within a thousand miles of California. There were only 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.
Peter the Aleut was glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and locally glorified by the Diocese of Alaska of the Orthodox Church in America as the "Martyr of San Francisco" in 1980. His feast day is celebrated on September 24 or December 12.
- Icon: St. Peter the Aleut, Creighton University
- All Saints of North America, an Orthodox Church in Virginia, USA
- McNichols Icon: St. Peter the Aleut and St. Andrew Bobola, SJ, Creighton University
- Saint Peter the Aleut, Oct 22 1999, University of Michigan
- Ivan Kuskof was a sailor and official associated with the Russian-American Company
- Text of Yanofsky's account of the martyrdom of Peter the Aleut, contained in his letter to Abbot Damascene (at Orthodox Church in America website)
- For a translation of the letter, see The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, cited below, pp. 80-89.
- needs reference
- See The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, cited below, p. 177.
- St. Peter the Aleut Orthodox Christian Church, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
- St. Peter the Aleut Church, Minot, ND
- Holy Martyr Peter the Aleut Church, Calgary, AB
- Saint Peter the Aleut Orthodox Mission, Southeast Louisiana
- 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).