The first santo figure that heads the Holy Week processions in the Philippines is the image of San Pedro. His name in Greek means “rock”. Saint Peter or Simon Peter is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and acknowledged as the Prince of the Apostles and the first Pope.
The son of Jonah, San Pedro was born ca. 1 BC in the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee. His brother, San Andres (Andrew) was also an apostle.
Originally a fisherman, San Pedro was assigned a leadership role by Jesus and was with him during important events such as the Transfiguration. He was part of Jesus' inner circle, saw Jesus walked on water, denied Jesus, was restored by Jesus, and preached on the day of Pentecost.
He is said to have been put to death by crucifixion at the hand of Emperor Nero in Rome, possibly in 67 A.D. Since he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Christ, the cross was positioned upside down.
San Pedro is portrayed in Philippine images as an oldish man having a short, square beard with a tuft of white hair on his bald pate, curled at the center of his forehead. In antiquity, he was depicted with a full head of hair.
His primary attribute is a pair of keys, referring to Christ's words to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19, "I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." There is a gold key to open the heaven and a silver key to open the gates of hell. These are shown either being held by the saint in one hand or shown hanging from his waist.
San Pedro also often has a book, a reference to the two New Testament letters ascribed to him. When not holding his attributes, he is shown with clasped hands, in a prayerful pose.
San Pedro's triple denial of Jesus is one of the most common narrative images involving the saint and is symbolized by the presence of a rooster (“manok ni San Pedro”), which crowed thrice every time the fearful saint denied the Lord. The rooster is shown standing separately on a pillar, or placed by his feet.
In Bulacan—in the towns of Bocaue, Marilao, Sta. Maria and Meycauayan—a machete-holding San Pedro comes out during Holy Thursday processions, in reference to his protecting Christ from the guards who had come to arrest him in the garden of Gethsemane. The “tabak” he wields recalls the faithful apostle’s attempt to cut off the ear of Malcus. The next day, Friday, the hands are replaced with clasped hands.
His feet are bare or sandaled and his garb almost always consists of a long, sleeved tunic in green, matched with a deep yellow mantle draped over his shoulders.