What Lies Beneath

St. Peter, Eternal Guardian, Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom, Apostle and Founder of the Christian church in Rome. Martyred under Nero in 64 AD.

St. Peter, Eternal Guardian, Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom, Apostle and Founder of the Christian church in Rome. Martyred under Nero in 64 AD.

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy

Bones….a pile of bones. Discovered below St. Peters Victory Monument at his grave site deep underneath the main altar of the basilica by his own name. Could they be his actual bones? In a rush of excitement, world-famous anatomist from Sicily, Professor Venerando Correnti, was called in on the scene to analyze them. In three years time he had an answer.

The bones found in the Vatican hill underneath the victory monument were of a woman, two men, and some small animals. What a blow!

However, stories often bring about unexpected twists and turns, and this was no exception. In 1941, a buttressing wall supporting the tomb and built around 250 AD was discovered by excavators. This wall, covered by plaster, was inscribed with Christian graffiti, including references to Mary, Peter and Christ. But the most amazing find was a marble-lined repository the size of a safe deposit box, hidden within the wall. Figuring these possibly contained the bones of a pope, the workmen removed them for later analysis. They had assumed the pile of bones found underneath the victory monument were St. Peters.

bones of st peter

Epigraphist, Dr. Margherita Guarducci, was brought in to analyse the graffiti on the wall. In the process, she saw the empty repository and asked to see the contents.

Peter is within

Petros Eni

Inside, she found a large piece of red plaster, which came from the repository that buttressed the red wall behind the tropian. On this fragment was a fourth-century inscription. Petr(os) eni. The word in Greek meant “Peter is here.” 

necropolis

Necropolis underneath St. Peters Basilica

The bones were analyzed by the same Professor Correnti. After eight years of careful analysis, he concluded that the bones found in the graffiti walls depository were of a man who died between the age of 65-70. This corresponds with the approximate age of Peter at his death.

Oldest St. Peter

St. Peter-Oldest known depiction found in a catacomb in Rome

The only bones missing were that of his feet. According to ancient writings, Peter was crucified upside down. The feet likely separated from the body in the process.

crucified

St. Peter crucified upside down

What I found very interesting is that the bones had been covered with royal purple and gold cloth. The purple had stained some of the bones, leading to the belief that they were wrapped after he had decomposed. Also, the bones themselves had dirt embedded in the pores, indicating that they had been in the earth a long time.

Pope XII announced to the public that the bones of St. Peter had indeed been found and rested in his tomb under his basilica. There seems little room for doubt….yet it does exist.

What kind of man could capture the hearts and devotion of millions throughout the centuries? Why would his tomb, since his death, be visited by throngs of pilgrims, embellished by the emperor Constantine, refined by three successive popes, and display Michelangelo‘s gloriously ornate dome? 

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  Matthew 16:18  New International Bible



Categories: History

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  1. What Lies Beneath « Italy: From St. Peter to Caravaggio

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