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St Paul



Paul was an apostle from Tarsus, originally named Saul, a Jewish tent maker, born in the 1st century A.D., with Roman citizenship inherited from his father.  He hated and actively persecuted Christians, was present at the stoning of St Stephen and went off to Damascus to obtain authorization from the synagogue to arrest Christians.  However, on the way he was strck by a blinding vision of God who asked Paul why he was persecuting him, as a result of which Paul converted to Christianity.  This event has been likened to an epileptic fit and Paul himself refers in his writings to his illness.

He was temperamentally difficult and for years was distrusted by Jews and Christians alike, which led to difficulties and disputes throughout his colourful life.  One difficulty resulted in his being rescued in a basket lowered over the walls of Damascus where he had been incarcerated.  He had various disputes with St Peter who was supposedly martyred in Rome on the same day as Paul;  as a Roman citizen Paul was entitled to the swifter and more honourable death by beheading than Peter's upside-down crucifixion.

Paul was described as having a long face with long beard, a bald head and deep-set eyes.  He is consistently portrayed in art with these features.  As attributes he holds the sword with which he was executed by the emperor Nero and a book of the letters he wrote to the first Christian communities he founded.  Paul is often paired with Peter as they were considered to be the joint founders of the Christian Church; Peter is always shown holding the key to the kingdom of heaven.