St. Peter the Aleut is an Alaskan saint who was martyred in California in 1815.
As the story goes (many details are uncertain), he was an Alaskan native, whose name in his own tongue was Chukagnak, with the baptismal name of Peter. As a native of Kodiak Island, he might have been Aleut or maybe Sugpiaq. He was part of the crew of a Russian ship hunting otters and seals off the coast of California.
He was captured by Jesuit and sent to what is now Los Angeles or possibly San Francisco.His captors ordered some California Native Americans to cut off St. Peter’s toes one by one, then his fingers, while demanding that he become Catholic. When he continued to refuse, they finally eviscerated him.
St. Peter’s companion, another Alaskan, was suddenly released. He told the story to Symeon Ivanovich Yanovsky, then chief manager of the Russian colonies and later St. Herman’s biographer, who told the story to St. Herman sometime after 1820.
St. Herman responded by making the sign of the Cross and saying, “Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for us!”
The details of St. Peter’s life are at best unclear. When Yanovsky told the story to St. Herman, St. Herman asked for St. Peter’s family name, but Yanovsky didn’t know it.
Yanovsky said that Jesuits were responsible for St. Peter’s capture, but there were no Jesuits in California at the time. So it must have been Franciscan’s or possibly Spanish government officials.
Some competent historians who are sympathetic to the Church believe St. Peter didn’t exist at all.
The Alaska Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America glorified St. Peter as a saint in 1980, and churches in Arizona, North Dakota, Louisiana, as well as Alberta, Canada, are dedicated to his memory.
“Holy Martyr Peter, pray to God for us.”
(Part of a series of bios of the saints on the new mural of American Saints at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Portland. The images are preliminary sketches of the work in process. The iconographer is Heather MacKean.)