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!
The most humble of the Seven Basilicas of Rome, which were the traditional places of pilgrimage during the Holy Years, is the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls. The Basilica is named after the famous Saint Martyr of the Early Church, who was the Arch Deacon of the Church of Rome entrusted with the funds for all the poor and widows in the City who received aide from the Church.
Saint Lawrence is the principal Patron Saint of all Deacons.
Saint Lawrence was martyred in 258 A. D., when he in response to the Roman Official who wanted to seize the treasures of the Church, being demanded to produce them for confiscation, Saint Lawrence called together the poor whom he cared for and said, “Behold the treasures of the Church!”
Saint Lawrence was put to death on a griddle, and when his flesh was roasted on one side, he said to his executioners, “I am done on this side, you can turn me over now!”
The Emperor Constantine build the first Basilica over the small Oratory which enclosed the tomb of the Saint in 258 A. D.. And YES indeed, this Basilica still holds its treasure! The tomb of the Saint!
The Nave of St. Lawrence’s Basilica preserves the traditional form an structure of a late Classical basilica, which was a Roman Law court. As these buildings became places for official imperial business, they were modified to have a raised dias at the end, where the official or Emperor would sit when holding court. Since it was cheaper to simply take an unused basilica and turn it into a Church, the form of the Roman basilica became the standard form of the Catholic Basilica for the next 1000 years, giving rise to the Romanesque Style of Architecture in Churches.
The Basilica therefore has a central large section flanked by columns, and at the apex of the Nave, a raised Sanctuary. Here you can see that beneath the Sanctuary, the lamps burning in the tomb of the Saint.
The floors of the Basilica preserve the mosaic like patters which were commonly used in the early Middle Ages. Large parts of the walls were rebuilt after World War II, because in their sloppiness, the Allies let a few bombs fall in the Verano Cemetery to the rear of the Church, which destroyed parts of this Church.
There are 2 great treasures in this Basilica, after Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament: The first is this magnificent Statue in white marble of Saint Lawrence, holding the griddle upon which he was burnt alive for the love of Jesus Christ. In this left hand, is a treasury box representing his duty to care for the funds of the Church of Rome.
In my judgement, this is one of the finest works of art in all of Christendom, because it succeeds in capturing both the nobility and the innocence of the Saint, without any of the exaggerations which came to be common in the Renaissance or Early Counter-Reformation. This is Christian Art the way it might have looked at the end of the Classical Period, when artists were mortified and men of prayer and spirituality.
Here is a close up. The Saint is wearing the traditional dalmatic of a Deacon, as they were made in the late Classical period. The Latin inscription on the box is from the Office of Saint Lawrence: Dispersit, dedit pauperibus. “He gave away, He gave to the poor”.
Notice the Cross on the Dalmatic, indicating that the Saint was consecrated to Christ heart and soul. The haircut is in the style of the Latin classical period, and the Saint is beardless because the tradition of the Roman Church has ever been for the clergy to shave the face.
The Sanctuary is formed by a raised platform which is accessed on each side by a stair Case. At the center is the High Altar, covered by a Baldichino. This one has plenty of holes in the roof, because in the late classical period, oil lamps were used to light the altar, and they required ventilation. Directly beneath the High Altar is the Tomb of the Saint.
One can see from the structure of the Altar, that the Priest or Bishop who celebrated here, has a tight space. But this Altar has a step of wood placed on the side used to celebrate, to keep the feet of the priest warm in the winter.
At the Apex of the Nave and Sanctuary is the Papal Throne, in Classical Imperial Style, with plenty of space for the Papal Court to stand and approach. This Throne is a good 50 feet from the High Altar, which means it was probably set there to accommodate a good number of the Clergy of the City during liturgies.
Here is a close up:
So you can see, having the “presider’s chair” on the central axis is quite an aberration. Only the Pope should sit in that place, because He is the Vicar of the Living God. The parish priest or Bishop should have a little humility and remember this.
Let’s now make our way to the Crypt, which is the goal of every pilgrim!
The Crypt consists of a huge marble sarcophagus enclosed in Iron Bars. This is the very tomb of the Saint, who has lain here for 18 centuries. The Bars were to keep pilgrims from stealing parts of the tomb.
The Tomb is covered in a Red Tapestry depicting Saint Lawrence. Red is because he shed his blood for Christ!
And if you stick your hand through the bars, you can take a photo of the Icon of the Saint, which sits at the head of his resting place.
This icon is modern and in the Greek Style.
Here is a prayer for Deacons, who come here on Pilgrimage:
O GLORIOUS SAINT LAWRENCE,
who in your duties as a Deacon kept ever in mind,
first and foremost,
that love of Christ’s poor was the principal and essential duty of every Deacon:
deign we beg you, to obtain for us the grace
to open our hearts to those who are truly poor,
and the prudence to distribute the alms of the faithful,
wisely and mercifully to those in need. Amen.
CREDITS: These photos are by Br. Bugnolo who releases them to the public domain so that Catholics everywhere can see the glories of their Faith, even if they cannot come to the Eternal City to see them in person.
Last Friday, I had the grace to make a pilgrimage to the Arch-Basilica of the Most Holy Savior, popularly known as Saint John Lateran, the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Rome.
It is called an Arch-Basilica, because of all the Churches in the world it is the Chief and Head and Most important, being the very Cathedral of the Vicar of Jesus Christ. It is called a Basilica, from the Greek word for royal, because it was placed under the protection of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, during whose reign it was built. So important was this Church in the history of Christianity, that all the Churches in the world, named “Christ Church” bear a name which traces originally back to this structure.
The land on which the Basilica was built was originally a Fort of the Imperial Cavalry bodyguards, and then passed to the Laterani family. It came into the possession of the Roman Emperor Constantine through his marriage to Fausta, the daughter of Maxentius.
After his victory at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine donated it to Pope Militiades sometime before or during 313 A.D. At that time, there was a palace on the site, which had belonged to Fausta. It was converted into a Catholic Church.
The Basilica was consecrated in 324 by Pope Sylvester I, who made the adjacent palace his personal residence. Here the popes resided for centuries. It was here Saint Francis met Pope Innocent III and received verbal approval for his first Rule. Even, to this day, alongside the Basilica one finds the Curia, or Chancery, of the Diocese of Rome, as one can see in this photo to the right.
In the 10th Century, the Basilica was rededicated to Saint John the Baptist, by Pope Sergius III. Saint John was the archetype of all Christian holiness (cf. Luke 7:28) and especially of hermits and prophets. So a great number of Churches were dedicated to him throughout Christianity.
In the 12th Century, Pope Lucius II rededicated the Basilica to Saint John the Apostle, taking into account the growing understanding of the holiness of this Saint and protector of the Blessed Virgin. Today, the Arch-Basilica bears the full name: Arch-Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran.
The facade, or front, of the Arch-Basilica is an imposing structure. On Top, at the Center, there is a wonderful statue of Jesus Christ holding His Cross. On each side are statues of great Popes and Saints.
As you can see, the front of the Church has pillars which support a large upper balcony. This is called the Loggia of the Basilica. Both Saint Mary Major’s and St. Peter’s also have loggias. When a new Pope is elected, he normally greets the faithful from the Loggia of St. Peter’s and from the loggias of the other Basilicas during his first visits.
Basilicas according to Church law are directly subject to the Roman Pontiff, being considered as churches belonging to the Diocese of Rome. The symbol for a Basilica, therefore, is the Papal Umbrellino and Keys, as you can see in this bass-relief at the base of one of the pillars of the facade of the Arch-Basilica.
The wreath strewn below the keys is a traditional symbol of honor and dignity, being a depiction of a wreath made of laurel leaves as used by the ancient Romans for festive occasions.
The Lateran Palace, immediately adjacent to the Basilica was the residence of the Popes from 313 to 1309, or approximately the 1000 year reign spoken of by Saint John in the Apocalypse. A fire damaged the site in 1307 and 1361. Pope Clement V, who was a Frenchman, moved his official residence to Avignon in 1309, which began the long Avignese Capitvity, against which Saint Catherine of Sienna railed during her lifetime: the idea that the Bishop of Rome should be residing hundreds of miles away in France was a scandal to Christendom, and represented the extreme dissonance of the medieval notion of princely power, able to do what it liked, with that of the spiritual authority of the Pope.
The second fire so damaged the Basilica and residence, that when the Popes returned to Rome, they never again resided at the Lateran.
As you enter the Portico of the Facade of the Arch-Basilica, if you look to the left, you can see the Statue of Constantine, the founder of the Church, on account of his donation of the land. He is depicted in imperial style in a manner aping the pose of the first imperator, Augustus Octavian.
The Portico is decorated with elaborate marble flooring and beautiful friezes and imagery. The only ghastly ugliness is the Holy Door which is closed except for the Holy Years. It is made of case bronze by some wicked and demented artist, and was so ugly, I decided not to photograph it.
This reminds us, that Roman Basilicas are like history books, they record the events in the life or death of the Church down through the ages. The Arch-Basilica is no different, as it contains within numerous funerary monuments to Cardinals and Noblemen who greatly assisted the Church of Rome in their ages, and whose dying wish was to be buried or remembered in the Cathedral of the Eternal City.
As you can see, the Arch-Basilica is not as large as the Basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, which I showed you two weeks ago, but it is stupendous in its own way. The floors are covered with inlaid marble of many colors, in the style popular in the late Middle Ages. The pillars on each side of the Nave each feature an enormous statue of one of the 12 Apostles, in imitation to the decorative style at the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter’s.
The Ceiling is magnificently ornamented, as you can see in these two photos:
The center piece, of course, is the High Altar, which appears to have escaped the desecrations of the Aggiornamento, for the most part (ironic, since after the Council the Bishops of Rome allowed the desecration of altars throughout the world, but protected that of their own Cathedral).
In the above photo, one is looking directly at the side altar of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the distant background. In the foreground, to the left, is the High Altar, which free stands at the head of the Nave of the Church.
In the photo above, a close up of the high altar of the Archbasilica. Medieval high altars often had canopies built over them, to prevent birds from leaving dirt upon the altar, if they happened to enter the Church when the doors were open.
In this photo, seen above, you can see the entire Canopy above the High Altar. Throughout the ages, various legends arose about why this canopy was so large. On my first visit to Rome in 2004, I was told by a guide that the relics of Saints John the Baptist and John the Apostle were kept above the altar, to protect them from the medieval devotion called, “relic theft”. In the middle ages, the Canons of this Basilica often claimed that the Ark of the Covenant was kept at the High Altar. This was not true, however.
Of all the funerary monuments in the Arch-Basilica, the most famous of them all is found to the left of the High Altar, on the back wall of the Church. It depicts Pope Leo XIII in all the vigor and triumph of his spirit.
Here is a close up of the statue of this great Pope.
This, without a doubt, is what a pope should look like and dress like.
Unlike Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls or Saint Peter’s Basilicae, this Arch-Basilica puts on display no great relic of any Saint. A pilgrim can obtain a plenary indulgence by visiting, and the mere opportunity to stand at the center of the Catholic Church, as one does, in this Church, is a worthy enough pilgrim’s goal.
May we all never forget and every foster a deep and profound sense of gratitude and reverence for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And may we dedicate our lives, fame and fortunes to ever defend Her from all enemies, both outside and within, so long as we live.
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