The Relics of the Maccabees…in Rome

The seventh chapter of the Second Book of Maccabees (a book belonging to the Catholic Bible, but not among the Hebrew collection of Scriptures) tells the story of seven faithful Jewish brothers who maintained their fidelity to the Law of God in the face of persecution during the tyranny of Antiochus IV in the second century B.C. The New Testament book of Hebrews commends these martyrs of Maccabees as exemplars of living faith (Heb 11:35).


The horrific murder of these Maccabean martyrs was so terrible and gruesome that we derived an English word from it—macabre. These seven Jewish brothers and their mother were arrested and ordered to eat the un-kosher flesh of a pig. One of the brothers spoke up and bravely pronounced, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”

Maccabee Relics in Rome

A Catholic Church in Rome was once dedicated to these holy Maccabee martyrs. It is known today as San Pietro in Vincoli or “Saint Peter in Chains” because it houses the chains used by the pagan Roman authorities to arrest Saint Peter. In 1876 an archeologist found beneath the church what were once believed to be the tombs for the relics of  the seven martyred brothers of Maccabees. This is providential since this Roman church is now known throughout the world for its famous statue of Michelangelo’s Moses as the great giver of the Law.


In this Catholic church, one can see the connection between the Law of Moses and those Maccabean martyrs who died on account of that sacred Law. Even more, their memory is joined with the imprisonment and eventual martyrdom of the Church’s first Pope—Saint Peter.

The blog post was an excerpt from my book The Crucified Rabbi – Judaism & the Origins of Catholicism.

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Question: Might it be that the Maccabees are a type of the martyrs at the end of time under the Antichrist? I think so. What’s your opinion on this matter? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • NJDanR

    I believe that the origin of the Jewish holiday of Hannuka is within the full story of the Maccabees.

    • That is correct.

      Christ’s “I am the light of the world” is in this context of Hanukah. Christ’s presence at the Temple for the feast fulfills the “rededication” of God’s temple.

      Under the Maccabean rededication of the temple, God’s presence was not there. However, at this sermon Christ in the Temple, the Divine Presence is there – Christ HImself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

  • I hadn’t thought of it in that way before, but it does resemble the early Christian Martyrs under the pagan Roman Empire.

    • Seven martyr sons of a pious mother. It sounds like “Mother Church” and the fullness of her children – seven being the number of perfection.

      Also, the Maccabean mother is a prototype of the Pieta of Our Lady under Calvary.

      • This is why I have read all of your books and follow your blogs, Taylor! Beautiful explanation…and I might add…the analogy sounds as profound as some of the Early Church Fathers! You, Joy and your wonderful family are always in my prayers.

  • Tony

    Reading through both books of Maccabees earlier this year, I realized something: this is the first place in all of Scripture where the reader is introduced, through Jewish history, to the Romans!! (1Macc. 8) In the limited canon of the Masoretic/Protestant OT, this information is missing. It then occurred to me that one could read through the truncated Protestant NIV/NASB, arrive at the Gospels, come across the Romans suddenly ruling Judea and think “Whoa! where’d these people come from?!”

    • Yes, 1&2 Maccabees are essential for understanding the Roman presence at the time of Christ. I think this is one reason why Protestants miss the “Roman-ness” of the New Testament.

      • JD

        Didn’t the Maccabees battle Antiochus, who was from the Seleucid, not Roman Empire? Seleucids were a Hellenistic (or Greek) society formed following the division of the empire of Alexander the Great. Did I miss “the first introduction to the Romans” and the “Roman-ness” somewhere in Macc 1 & 2?

        • Yes the Jews made a political alliance with Rome to defend themselves against the Greeks.
          The Jewish marriage to Rome leads to Rome dominating Jerusalem.

          My book Eternal City explains all this in detail if you’re interested.

  • JLM

    What am I missing? I thought there were five brothers and sons of Mattathias: John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar, and Jonathan.

    • These are the 7 Maccabean brother martyrs. Not the Maccabean warriors. Two different sets if brothers.

  • JD

    Could another connection to Simon Peter be that of “Simon”Maccabee — the only survivor of the brothers who ushered in the independence of Judah?

    • JD

      P.S. “Simon” Maccabee never became King — only High Priest, just as Peter became Pope (our High Priest). From what I read “Simon also takes on himself the title of nasi meaning
      “prince/president/leader.” He did not call himself king because he knew
      full well that a Jewish king could only come from the line of David, but
      for all practical purposes they assumed the role of kingship.” His ancestors, however, do not respect this distinction. They start a new ruling dynasty in Israel—the Hasmonean dynasty.

  • Steven Calovich

    I wish I had known this when I visited the church in 1983. BTW, I had the privilege of having Father Phil Wolfe as my Pastor for eight wonderful years!

  • HV Observer

    How did the relics get to Rome if the seven brothers were martyred in the Holy Land? Did that translation of the relics happen before or after Our Lord’s time on earth? And, if the translation happened before Our Lord’s time, why would they want to bring the relics to Rome in the first place?