Vinicius Silva de Almeida [Vinícius S.A]

Tears of Saint Peter (Lagrimas de São Pedro), 2005–21, 6,000 light bulbs filled with water (various numbers in different locations), Installation, Brazil; © Vinicius S.A (Vinicius Silva de Almeida); Photo: Erivan Morais Junior

Repentance (Transforming Tears)

Commentary by Clemena Antonova

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Read by Chloë Reddaway

On the night of Christ’s arrest and trial, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times in a row (Luke 22:56–60) and then he ‘wept bitterly’ (v.62). Thus, Peter becomes a paradigm of the sinner, while his subsequent tears acquire a profound and exemplary theological significance. The short phrase ‘wept bitterly’ signifies the very Christian move from sin to repentance, which marks the spiritual transformation of the sinner. It is no surprise that Peter’s tears become a celebrated subject in the history of art.

The contemporary Brazilian artist Vinícius Silva de Almeida's Tears of Saint Peter (Lagrimas de São Pedro) uses hundreds of light bulbs, filled with water, and suspended on near-invisible nylon threats. The whole creates an impression of rain, or even tears, falling from the sky. The title of the work takes its cue from a series of festivals celebrated in Brazil in June, including the feast of Saint Peter on the 29th, which heralds the rainy season and gives rural communities in particular an opportunity to thank the saints for their assistance in providing the rain.

Encountering this installation, and knowing its title, some viewers may find themselves reflecting on the interconnection of sorrow with healing in Peter’s story. It is a story that suggests that the mercy of God is infinite and even the most terrible of sins is forgivable, but also that the path to divine mercy and forgiveness passes through repentance. It is possible to view the ‘tears’ of this installation, when interpreted from a Christian perspective, as a sign of human repentance, but also as a pointer to the promise of divine grace that, for those who repent, will ‘drop down … from above’ (Isaiah 45:8).

It is striking that this paradigm of repentance should be Peter, who is distinguished among all the apostles. It is Peter who becomes the ‘Rock of the Church’, the first among the male disciples who is granted the vision of the risen Christ (Galatians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 15:5). And Peter is singled out not despite of, but exactly because of his failure. Pope Leo I (440–61 CE) called Peter the first human ‘expert’ in divine humility (Uhalde 2009). His moment of weakness is only the beginning of his spiritual journey, which will go through tears and repentance and end, Christ-like, at the cross.



Hansen, Kerra Gazerro. 2012. ‘The Blessing of Tears: The Order of Preachers and Domenico Cavalca in St Catherine of Sienna’s “Dialogo della divina provvidenza”’, Italica, 89.2: 145–61

Porubcan, Stefan. 1967. ‘The Consciousness of Peter’s Primacy in the New Testament’, Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 5: 9–39

Uhalde, Kevin. 2009. ‘Pope Leo I on Power and Failure’, Catholic Historical Review 95.4: 671–88

See full exhibition for Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:54–62; John 18:15–18, 25–27

Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:54–62; John 18:15–18, 25–27

Revised Standard Version

Matthew 26

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the cock crowed. 75And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Mark 14

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maids of the high priest came; 67and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway. 69And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Luke 22

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance; 55and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a maid, seeing him as he sat in the light and gazing at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58And a little later some one else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” 60But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

John 18

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus, 16while Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the maid who kept the door, and brought Peter in. 17The maid who kept the door said to Peter, “Are not you also one of this man’s disciples?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves; Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, “Are not you also one of his disciples?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed.