Has the location of the Tomb of St. Peter been discovered?

English Summary by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

Antonio Socci has published a fascinating report about the recent historical-archeological study done to discover the resting place of the Prince of the Apostles here at Rome. (Click the image above to read the original Italian article)

And since it is not far from my residence, I have decided to trek out to the archeological site and report live from there in the coming days.

But first, a summary in English of Socci’s article.

As we all know, the Prince of the Apostles was martyred at Rome. He was crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero, that is the hippodrome or horse racing track of the Emperor Nero.  That horse track is on the south side of the Basilica of St. Peter’s, and the Basilica is built on top of the ancient Roman Cemetery on the Vatican hill.

But when excavated in the post war years, all that was discovered beneath the High Altar of the Basilica, many meters below, was an empty niche in an ancient Roman Wall, before which was built an altar.  Scholars agreed that this was most likely the original place of burial of St. Peter’s remains. But whether he was burnt alive like his fellow martyrs or whether his body remained intact, was information lost to history.

Socci reports that the ancient sources say that St. Peter was buried, Ad Catecombas. And historians speculate that this location is the site of the former Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine for his own mother St. Helena.  The speculation is that the Emperor and His Mother, who herself could be called the patron and mother of Christian archeology, in that she spear headed the excavation and discovery of the True Cross, had decided to be buried next to the Prince of the Apostles.

Even Maria Valtorta professed to have a vision of the Apostle, incorrupt, holding a parchment in his hand, buried Ad Catecombas.  The tom might be where three scholars have guessed its location might be, but no excavation has yet been undertaken.  The fame of the Vatican Basilica might have eroded the memory of the true location of the Apostle’s final resting place, but it seems still quasi impossible the Church of Rome would forget where they buried the Rock, upon which Christ built His Church.

This week I will try to go in person to the place and film a report. Stay tuned!

7 thoughts on “Has the location of the Tomb of St. Peter been discovered?”

  1. I thought they found the bones of St.Peter years ago. There was a book written about the discovery. .recently ..within the last 3 yrs or so

  2. I don’t believe it. The bones were found years ago under St. Peter’s Basilica and confirmed by the Pope at that time.

    1. No bones were found in the tomb of St. Peter. But nearby there were several faithful bound buried and one of these was thought to be the Apostle. the problem is that near his tomb the inscription read, “Peter is near”, not “Peter is here”.

    1. She was buried in Constantinople, where she died, because Constantine, ruling his empire from there, at that time, decided to keep her close to himself. And so her tomb at Rome was never used.

  3. Wow….sorry to hear that. I think I even read the Woman Archeologist who headed the first attempt, converted to Catholicism because of the results of the Dig.

  4. Dear Brother Alexis,
    I must apologise for my error in the last post I made to your site concerning the age of Leo XIII at his death. I quoted from memory, always a bad thing to do, and I mistakenly gave his age as 97 not 93. My mistake! For the following comments on St Peter’s burial place I have done my homework this time. Please note that I have been working on and off on a book about St Peter and his coming to Rome for many years and hope to get a publisher in the near future when I finish it. It is a huge topic. I am not a professional archaeologist but have belonged for some 35 years to one of the oldest archaeological societies in England and know many of England’s top archaeologists. I have studied the subject of St Peter’s tomb at the Vatican for more than 30 years but do not claim to be an authority on it. Among publications I have consulted over the years are the work of Toynbee & Perkins (1957); Kirschbaum (1959); Guarducci (1960); John Evangelist Walsh (1982); Craughwell (2013); O’Neill (2018). I have also seen Paulo Apostoli Martyri by Bucarelli & Morales (2011) for details on St Paul’s tomb. Over the last 30 years I have often visited Rome usually staying with the Rosminian Fathers at Porta Latina or my cousin’s place in Rome. This has allowed me to visit most of the basilicas and catacombs open to the public including: the Scavi under St Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St Paul, Tre Fontana and St Sebastian’s Basilica and catacomb. So I am familiar with all the sites associated with the martyrdom and burial of both apostles. There appears to be some confusion with facts in some of the blogs made to this site concerning the burial of St Peter. First, his remains are found in various locations not one single place in Rome. Secondly, Dr. Margherita Guarducci was a professor of Greek epigraphy in the University of Rome not and archaeologist. It was she who discovered and translated the graffiti in the Valerian Mausoleum of the Vatican Necropolis (second half of 2nd Century AD) which indicated that one of the Valerian family wished to be buried near to the tomb of St Peter. Third, she also deciphered the Greek graffiti from a plaster fragment coming from the Red Wall complex of the Aedicula structure uncovered by Antonio Ferrua which lead to the eventual discovery of the bones that had been originally hidden in a marble lined chamber in the so-called Graffiti Wall, abutting the Red Wall. Unfortunately, these bones wrapped in purple cloth, were taken away without Ferrua and his team of archaeologists finding them in situ by Monsignor Kaas who was in charge of the fabric of the basilica. He had them stored away by a workman and luckily Guarducci managed to track them down when she spoke to the workman years after the find. It would be almost 10 years before the bones were analysed scientifically and the results published. Ferrua had tried to keep the red plaster fragment from Guarducci who had to ask Pope Pius XII for help in obtaining it. It was she that deciphered the outline of the Greel letters Petros Eni, which she translated as Peter in (here). Ferrua never accepted her findings even though it lead to her eventually discovering the stored bones. He would later ban her permanently from visiting the necropolis and to his dying day would agree with sceptics in denying the authenticity of her work. Fourth, the original first century burial place of the apsotle was discovered under the floor of the monument complex which dated back to the pontificate of Pope Anicetus (mid 2nd Century). It was a simple inhumation grave dug in the bare soil and probably covered with clay tiles. Later a grave slab was placed over it which was at an angle to the later red wall built over it. Within that grave were found the bones of several people, including a woman. It is interesting to note that the same clay soil was found on the bones discovered by Monsignor Kaas in the marble repository within the Graffiti Wall. The original grave is contemporary with the 1st century origins of the Necropolis built adjacent to the Via Aurelia and hard up against the Circus of Gaius and Nero. It was, of course, this circus where Nero martyred the christians according to Tacitus. St Peter was very likely amongst them. Fifth, the Red Wall could be dated by the brick stamps to circa AD 160, while the Grafitti Wall was dated to circa AD 250 (see Guarducci). The Liber Ponticalis mentions a translation of the bones of the apostles during the pontificate of Pope Cornelius (AD 251–253) to their present places in the Vatican and Via Ostense. The Filocalian calendarof AD 354 mentions a feast of the Apostles at the Via Appia site of Ad Catacumbas for the first time in AD 258, which is also ther year of the Valerian persecution of the Church in Rome. This has lead some scholars, Kirschbaum among them, to associate this translation of some of the apostle’s bones to Via Appia as a precaution against their desecration by the authorities. We must also remember that the Roman Priest Caius circa AD 200 mentions the cult of the two apostles at the Vatican and Via Ostense as being long attested to (see Eusebius Ecclesiastical History). Hence, there has been confusion for centuries about the original burial sites of both apostles. Sixth, it must be also remembered that the when the bones found in the repository of the Grafitti Wall were eventually analysed some bones were missing. We know that since the Ninth century the skulls of the apsostles have been kept in St John Lateran. Indeed, the skull bones are almost completely missing in the case of St Peter apart from some very small fragments, which is consistent with the tradition. Also no foot bones were discovered and some finger bones are missing. This is also consistent with other ancient relics of St Peter known to exist in Rome. It raises the question as to what happened in the pontificate of Pope Cornelius? Were the bones of St Peter taken from their original resting place and hidden at the Via Appia site eventually returning but without the head? Were the bones fould in the Grafitti Wall repository placed and sealed in there during Cornelius’ ponticate as a precaution. It would be better to separate the apostle’s relics as insurance against their desecration by pagans. I have also heard it suggested that the Via Appia memorial may have been in the hands of the schismatic Novatianists during part of the 3rd century. it is all rather confusing. In summary then, I think it is fair to say that the original burial sites of the two apostles were as Caius said at the Vatican and the Via Ostense. Indeed, the Tropaion he mentions for St Peter was found by the archaeologists. A first century burial is consistent with the archaeological evidence for both apostles but that a 3rd century translation of their relics (or at least some of them) to the Via Appia site is also very plausible from the evidence of the historic record and archaeological finds. I do hope that my email will help clear up some of your readers’ confusion. I am sorry that I have been so long winded but the evidence requires stating before any plausible conclusions can be drawn. I hope that you can agree with me that the traditions of all three sites can be respected by my conclusion which is that adopted by Kirschbaum (one of the four archaeologist on the St Peter’s excavations) and Guarducci herself. God bless you and your work and I hope that Pope Benedict will soon be recognized universally as the still reigning Vicar of Christ and sole Bishop of Rome. I know many priests and faithful among my acquaintances who think he is.

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